Lionel Lepezel has lived his whole life in the small French village of Charny-sur-Meuse.
He knows his village and its surrounding area like the back of his hand. Lionel much enjoyed taking long walks through the dense forests in his area.
He often went mushroom picking, but remained cautious of which areas he wandered into…
In the vicinity of his forest one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the First World War had taken place: the Battle of Verdun.
The Battle of Verdun, fought from 21 February to 18 December 1916, was one of the largest and longest battles of the First World War on the Western Front between the German and French armies.
A total of over 300,000 lost their lives on the battleground.
But the horrors that took place in the area were rarely on Lionel Lepezel’s mind as he hunted for mushrooms.
But one day, as he went about his usual mushroom picking, he discovered something that would change his life forever. In the dense vegetation he saw something shining.
Lionel leaned down to pick up the small object.
It was a simple gold ring – but when he saw the ingraving inside it, his heart began to beat a little faster.
“Martha et Léonce, 7/18/14,” read the inscription.
Lionel realized that it was a wedding ring, with the date of July 7, 1914 – just two weeks before the First World War began.
Lionel was determined to return the ring to its rightful owner. But how could he possibly find them, after so many years?
He asked for his friend Cédric’s advice, a teacher who had great knowledge about The Battle of Verdun.
Lionel and Cédric went through endless archives and interviewed witnesses, but they failed to find the person they were looking for.
After 10 years of hunting and hitting dead ends, Lionel and Cédric finally gave up.
But at the end of 2016, the phone suddenly rang. It was Cédric.
He cautiously informed his friend that they had perhaps found a clue in their search. Archives listing soldiers during the battle and their identification numbers had now been made available to the public.
The news shed a new veil of hope over the men.
Together they begun to dig through the archives and other documents, until they at last discovered a young man named Achille Léonce Bourrelly. He had died in 1916, at roughly the same place where Lionel found the ring.
After all these years, Lionel and Cédric had finally found a concrete clue.
Lionel then managed to find two phone numbers to two possible descendants of Léonce. The first person turned out to be wrong, so they contacted the second: Alain Bourrelly.
Alain was flabbergasted when he heard a message from Lionel on his answering machine, explaining the reason for his call.
He immediately called Lionel back.
It turned out that the ring belonged to Alain’s grandfather.
“Lionel said I could pick up the ring the next day. I couldn’t sleep all night. I knew that my father had never known his father. His mother raised him after the war. We never talked much about it,” says Alain.
Alain looked up the marriage certificate from his grandparents, as well as the death certificate of Léonce. Léonce Bourrelly was hit and died of his wounds from a fragmented grenade.
Alain and his family at last met Lionel and Cédric. They waited until Autumn, around the same time of year as Léonce died.
Together they went out into the field, where the bloody battles took place and where Lionel found Léonce’s ring.
“When you see all this, you get a lump in my throat. My grandfather died in an area between two villages, which were completely destroyed during the war. They had dug trenches in the frozen ground. It was a massive slaughter.”
Alain never got to meet his grandfather, but to get his wedding ring, 100 years after the devastating battle means a lot to him. You can see more in the video below (French).
A big thumbs up to Lionel and Cédric for their tenacious efforts to return the ring to its rightful owner!
Through their experience, they got to meet a whole family and know their tragedy.
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