Augustus Sert
by Guillaume Pagnier

I never really knew my grandfather. Since it was only possible to see him once a year, my grandfather, or Augustus Sert, had receded, in my point of view, to a short tempered old man who was always unhappy with the current situation but showed great affection in his children. However, this experience showed my grandfather in a new light. I never really understood the courage and skill it required to take part in the infamous Algerian war of Independence.

This famous war started in 1954 when a colony of France called Algeria decided to break away from France. The French “premier” called Pierre Mendes decided that this could not happen and immediately sent the French army to overcome the Algerian rebels. The Algerian “masquisards” or terrorists started to use guerrilla warfare and insurgent tactics to damage France in any way and on November 1, 1954 the first attack took place. The French army immediately mobilized to the front line and started a national draft.

War time
2 years later in the year 1956, when my grandfather was 20 years old, he was drafted to be a communications officer and underwent a quick training of 6 months. My grandfather was sent to the Maquis line, the border separating France from Algeria. In my interview with him he repeatedly told me “(translated) I was always so scared, it was a constant mind numbing terror that took over your body and betrayed it”. My grandfather was the person who was responsible for making sure all radio contact came through clearly and rapidly. He kept on stressing the point that it was so heavy that he had to buckle his knees down in order to support the weight. I can still see the effect of this weight as he now always walks with slightly buckled knees.

Throughout the year he was employed by the army, he quickly darted to and from clearings in order to install radio antennas. He told me this work was always nerve wracking as he could never run fast enough to keep up with the other soldiers. He always installed radio antennas as if his life depended on it (he told me with a laugh that in some cases it did!) and then quickly ran to a near bunker or encampment. When I asked him if he saw any hostile Algerians he shuddered and told me a story about how he was hiding in a camouflaged bunker, when a company of Algerian “freedom fighters” quickly ran past his prone body in order to ambush a group of friendly French soldiers. My grandfather sighed and explained to me that this was the moment in his life that was the scariest. He knew that if he was caught he would have most likely been tortured and killed. He told me how he had radioed in the Algerians positions and received a medal for his efforts. He announced that next I visit him, I could see the medal awarded to people who committed acts of bravery. I could also see his flint pistol, something I had been wondering about since the beggining of my life.  “(translated) Some nights” he told me, “you would wake up with the sound of gunfire and screaming coming a little over 2 kilometers away.” Everyone knew that if they were caught by either side they would be set as an example for anyone else. He said that it was just a stupid and pointless war, and how France shouldn't care if Algeria becomes a separate country. He declared the loss of life “ridiculous” as no one should die over such small a thing. He hated the pain and the death and he was thrilled when the duty to his country was over.
When the actual war ended in 1962 “casualties” he explained, “were up to 700,000.” Fortunately my grandfather had never met someone who would die in the war but he said the Algerian war had taken a year from his life. Afterwards, following up on the communications training, my grandfather became an electrical engineer, “the only good thing to come from this”. Even 50 years after this chapter in my grandfather's life I can still imagine him leaning on his favorite chair, caught up with the memories from the Algerian war.


“Algerian War.” The War of Independece.  29 Jan. 2007                <http://>.

“D day.” School history.  1 Feb. 2007 < ddaybeaches.htm>.

Sert, Augustus. Telephone interview. 3 Jan. 2007.

World Socialist web site. Torture in the Algerian War.  29 Jan. 2007 <http://http://wsws /articles/2001/apr2001/alg.shtml>.