I tried to talk him about it all from time to time, and I gave him a book about the three battles of Ypres. But he would never say much, only that it rained all the time, and that it was only the rain that ruined all those catastrophic offensives. As for history's first gas attack, he would say only: "We went up to relieve the Canadians and they were all dead. All dead."
I met other soldiers from that war. I used to sit at the bar at Charley's, his bar-restaurant in Nice, trying to learn French, practicing on one or another of his barmen, and those old soldiers would come in, tourists now, attracted by him, I suppose, and I would talk to them. But none ever said much. One had been shot in the chest, he told me. He was not looking for sympathy. He was apologizing for his raspy breathing. But he would never say much else. I never heard of anyone from that war who would. It had been the greatest experience of their lives, but a ghastly one. Not something they wanted to discuss with people who hadn't been there, certainly. Did they ever discuss it among themselves? I don't know. They didn't really have to. Each of them already knew what all the others had lived through, for trench warfare was exactly the same from the Swiss border to the Belgian coast, 300 miles of trenches, the suffering and the slaughter just went on and on, year after year.
I would give a lot to know the answers.