Monday, January 21, 2008
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France rediscovers WWI veterans
Mustard gas survivor Rene Riffaud now lives in Normandy
France has rediscovered two elderly men who fought in the First World War, boosting the number of surviving veterans from five to seven.
Francois Jaffre, aged 104, was assumed dead by authorities but was in fact living in a retirement home near Paris.
And Rene Riffaud, now 107, was added to the list of WWI veterans after a campaign by his granddaughter.
Millions died during the 1914-1918 war, but just a handful of elderly veterans survive today.
France is expected to mark the death of its last WWI veteran, or "poilus", with a national commemoration.
Authorities lost track of the two men over the years for different reasons.
Much of World War I was fought on French soil
The National Veterans' Office lost track of Mr Jaffre, who joined the navy in 1917, when he moved home many years ago.
According to the French newspaper Le Monde, he served on a submarine hunter that escorted US ships across the Atlantic from New York.
For many years after the war he lived in Paris, but moved to a retirement home in the Yvelines region and forgot to tell the veterans' office.
Tunisia-born Mr Riffaud fought as an artilleryman in the Ardennes forest in the north-east of France, where he was affected by poisonous mustard gas.
Hamlaoui Mekachera, the French veterans' minister and son of a former WWI soldier, hailed the rediscovery of the two men.
"We are very happy. Instead of there being five of them, there are seven, and I hope they will remain among us for a very long time," he told LCI TV.
"It is not impossible that we could discover some more. There have been two cases in one week," he said, although he admitted that it was unlikely.
France's oldest surviving veteran, Maurice Floquet, celebrated his 111th birthday on Christmas Day.
Another veteran, 107-year-old Ferdinand Gilson, died last weekend.