|Birth:||7 December 1897|
Cordani, Bettola, Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
|Death:||12 March 2008|
Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, France
|Age:||110 years, 96 days|
Lazare Ponticelli (né Lazzaro Ponticelli; 7 December 1897 claimed 24 December – 12 March 2008) was a Italian-French supercentenarian who at the time of his death was the last surviving officially recognized veteran of the First World War from France and the last poilu of its trenches to die. His case is validated by the Gerontology Research Group (GRG).
Lazare Ponticelli was born in Cordani, a frazione (civil parish) in Bettola, Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna, in northern Italy, he was raised in a mountain hamlet in Bettola, one of seven children born to Jean Ponticelli and Philomène Cordani. His father sold livestock on the fairgrounds and occasionally worked as a carpenter and cobbler.
Ponticelli’s mother cultivated the family's small plot of land and, like many women of the area, commuted three times a year to the Po Valley to work in its rice fields. Despite the Ponticelli family's hard work, they were impoverished and the children often went to bed on an empty stomach. When Lazare was two years of age, his mother moved to France to earn a better living. After the unexpected deaths of Jean Ponticelli and his eldest son, Pierre, the rest of the family moved to Paris, leaving Lazare in the care of neighbors.
At the age of six, Ponticelli started several jobs, including making clogs. By 1906, aged eight years old, he had saved enough money to buy a railway ticket to Paris, which he considered "paradise". To travel to the capital of France, he walked to the nearest train station at Piacenza. He could not speak French, but found work as a chimney sweep in Nogent-sur-Marne and later as a paper boy in Paris. He obtained a work permit aged 13.
World War I
In August 1914, aged 16, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Ponticelli was assigned to the 4th Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment of the French Foreign Legion. He had lied about his age to enlist. He rediscovered his older brother, Céleste Ponticelli, who had joined the same regiment. According to Ponticelli, France had done much for him, and serving was his way of showing his gratitude. He served at Soissons in Picardy, northeast France, and at Douaumont, near Verdun. Ponticelli worked at digging burial pits and trenches. In keeping a promise to Céleste to always assist others, he rescued a German and a French soldier who were wounded in the arm and leg, respectively.
Ponticelli was not a French citizen and in May 1915, when Italy entered the war, he was conscripted into the Italian Army. Although he attempted to remain with his French regiment, he eventually enlisted in the 3rd Alpini Regiment, after being escorted to Turin by two gendarmes. Ponticelli saw service against the Austro-Hungarian Army at Mount Piccolo on the Austria–Italy border.
At his new post as a machine gunner, Ponticelli was seriously wounded by a shell during an assault on an Austrian mountain position. He was returned to his post after rest and recuperation in Naples. In an undated interview, he described being injured: "Blood was running into my eyes... I continued firing despite my wound".
Once, his regiment ceased fighting the Austrians for three weeks. The armies, who mostly spoke each other's tongue, swapped loaves of bread for tobacco and photographed each other. In 1918 Ponticelli was gassed in an Austrian attack that killed hundreds of his fellow soldiers. Reflecting on war, he said: "You shoot at men who are fathers. War is completely stupid". In one of his last interviews, Ponticelli stated he was amazed at his own survival.
Until his death, Ponticelli lived with his daughter in the Paris suburb of Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, and every 11 November until 2007 he attended Armistice Day ceremonies. An honored citizen of his adopted town, Ponticelli voted in the 2007 presidential and legislative elections. He officially became a supercentenarian on 24 December 2007, celebrating his official 110th birthday at the National History of Immigration Museum. He kept his war medals in a shoebox.
When originally offered a state funeral by then French President Jacques Chirac, Ponticelli asserted that he did not want one, although the death of the penultimate recognized soldier, Louis de Cazenave, on 20 January 2008 caused him to reconsider. He eventually accepted a small ceremony "in the name of all those who died, men and women", during World War I.
Ponticelli died at 12:45 pm (11:45 GMT) at his home in Le Kremlin-Bicêtre on 12 March 2008 at the age of 110 years, 96 days. At the time of his death, Ponticelli was the oldest living man of Italian birth and the oldest man living in France. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, released a statement and said there would be a day of national remembrance for the war dead of France. Ponticelli had at least one child, his then 78-year-old daughter, Janine Desbaucheron.
- "Lazare Ponticelli: Veteran who fought for France and Italy in the First World War". The Times. 13 March 2008. Retrieved 16 March 2008.
- Hofstein, Cyril (29 January 2008). "Lazare, le dernier des poilus". Le Figaro. Retrieved 12 December 2008.
- Pirot, Laurent (12 March 2008). "Last French WWI Veteran Dies". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
- "France's final WWI veteran dies". BBC News. 12 March 2008. Retrieved 12 March 2008.
- Kantner, James (12 March 2008). "Lazare Ponticelli, 110, last 'poilu' of World War I trenches". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 17 March 2008.
- "Lazare Ponticelli, 110; France's last surviving World War I veteran". Los Angeles Times. 14 March 2008. Retrieved 17 March 2008.
- "Last French World War I Veteran Dies at 110". The New York Sun. Associated Press. 13 March 2008. Retrieved 19 March 2008.
- "Lazare Ponticelli". The Economist. 19 March 2008. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
- Millar, Lisa (18 March 2008). "France honours last WWI veteran". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 24 March 2008.
- "WWI veteran turns 110". Tulsa World. NewsBank. 17 December 2007. p. A6. Retrieved 9 December 2008.
- "France's oldest WW1 veteran dies". BBC News. 20 January 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2008.
- "France's oldest man dies". The Sydney Morning Herald. Reuters. 21 January 2008. Retrieved 30 March 2008.
|France's Oldest Living Man Titleholders (V • E)|
Jean Teillet • Louis-Jules Lebon • Unknown • Pierre James • Adolphe Gravelines • Henri Perignon • Faustin Jaumard • Louis Brard • Andre Raynaud • Emile Fourcade • Bernard Delhom • Louis Arthur Bon • Leon-Clement Estivals • Jules Many • Theophane Rifosta • Alexis Daigneau • Raymond Abescat • Joseph Rabenda • Jean Chevenet • Maurice Floquet • Aime Avignon • Louis de Cazenave • Lazare Ponticelli • Pierre Picault • Joseph Malahieude • Felix Rostaing • Philibert Parnasse • Charles De Antoni • Andre Coudrat • Louis Le Bouedec • Emile Turlant • Philippe Vocanson • Roger Gouzy • Robert Bourdon • Georges Massard • Roger Auvin • Jules Theobald • Marcel Meys • Andre Boite