When war was declared, he was appointed lieutenant of the 13th dragoon regiment and commenced the Artois campaign. He was killed on 22nd June 1915 in Rivière, 8 kilometres to the south west of Arras (Pas-de-Calais). The story of his death is known, having been reported in detail by a comrade in combat: « Around 9:45 am there was an exchange of rapid gunfire coming from the bottom of the ravine… The brigadier and two patrol men had fallen injured on the slope of the ravine near to the stream. Breuil said: pass me a rifle, I’ll go. Followed by a non-commissioned officer and two men, he left running, hardly ducking, passed the listening post and descended the embankment to a small path halfway down the slope. At that moment, the Germans fired, a man fell at Breuil’s side saying: I’m hit. He replied: me too. He takes another two steps and falls to the floor. Death must have been instant. He had taken three or four bullets, one directly to the heart, another to the shoulder. The non-commissioned officer and the uninjured man stayed close to him and fired in the direction of the willows from which the rifle shots had come and then a few men were able to come with a stretcher to fetch him. He was buried two days later in Beaumetz ». The Army awarded him the Croix de Guerre and he was given the Legion of Honour posthumously.
Following his military honours, he received recognition for his talent as a writer, since the Académie Française had awarded him a Montyon prize for the prose in his session of 20th July 1915 with gold medal. At the end of the war, he was buried in the family vault in the Pailly cemetery (Haute-Marne).
The name of Jean du Breuil de Saint-Germain appears on many civil and religious commemorative monuments: the monuments of the Morts de Langres in the village of Pailly, the religious monument on the hill of the Fourches à Langres, the commemorative plaques in the Saint-Augustin church in Paris, Pailly church, the commemorative plaque for writers in the Pantheon and the commemorative plaque of the Société Historique et Archéologique de Langres (SHAL).
Jean Moreau du Breuil de Saint-Germain was elected as a contributing member of SHAL in the session of 11th November 1913, recommended by doctor Brocard. Even though his time in the society had been short-lived, he made a great impact posthumously.
On 20th October 1922, Albert du Breuil de Saint-Germain’s widow and her son, Pierre, suggested creating a prize bearing the name of Lieutenant Jean du Breuil de Saint-Germain, which would comprise 5000 francs and “would be awarded to a work concerned with the arrondissement of Langres or created by a person either originating from the arrondissement or residing there, in the fields of History, Literature, Art, Science or Morals.” On 12th November 1922, the day of the inauguration of the monument commemorating the dead, the prize was officially created.
On 31st October 1923, Mrs Albert du Breuil de Saint-Germain gave her Langres town house to SHAL to house a museum. It’s this building which is now the Maison des Lumières Denis Diderot, Musée de France, in accordance to the wishes of the donor and in memory of the Moreau Du Breuil de Saint-Germain family.
Text: Pierre Gariot, Société Historique et Archéologique de Langres