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Showing posts from 2013

Napoleon's soldiers

Following my previous posts on newly digitized French military archives here and here, there has been another release of personal records from French military archives, but this time from the Napoleonic period.
The archives are those from groups GR 20 YC and GR 21 YC at the Service Historique at Vincennes (here). GR 20 YC is the register of recruits of the Garde Consulaire, the Garde Impériale, and the Garde Royale, for the period 1802-15, and includes all arms - infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers, train des équipages, administration section and gendarmes d’ordonnance. Or so the accompanying text says. If you actually look at the individual registers, those of the Guard infantry actually start in 1799.
GR 21 YC covers similar records over the same period for the line infantry, from the 1er to the 156e Regiments.
So, click on the Faire une recherche button. This takes you to a data entry screen. You can search by keyword, archive piece number, arm of service, type of unit, or uni…

The real Rintintin




 Rintintin's on the right. Obviously.

In 1913, the artist Francisque Poulbot created two characters, two typical children, named Nénette (the girl) and Rintintin (the boy). The drawings were turned into dolls, intended to replace the dolls in French shops that were 'Made in Germany'. While they had some popularity before war broke out, their production suffered because of the war.
The characters were revived four years later, following the publication of Encores des gosses et des bonhommes: cent dessins et l'histoire de Nénette et Rintintin, published by Editions Ternois. 'Everyone loves and adores us. You can find us amongst the finest amulets, the hand of Fatima, four-leaved clover, golden pigs, scarabs, the number 13, and white elephants. ... We are the most fashionable good-luck charm, triumphing over back luck.Keep us round your neck, on your watch chain, on your bracelet, in your pocket, on the windscreen of your car, With us you will never be i…

цари воздухе: In the Air

The last two posts have been pretty sombre, so now, as one French pilot (Bernard Lafont of V220) remarked, 'I need to get flying and feel the chill of the slipstream'. Slipping the surly bonds of earth, therefore, here is some of the aviation art of the Soviet artist Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka (1899-1969).
Deineka was born in Kursk, the son of a railway worker.After the Revolution, he went to study in Moscow. There, his first works were in the heroic socialist style, but by the early 1930s had begun creating more 'conventional' landscapes and portraits. During the 1930s, he became increasingly interested in aviation as an expression of the modern world.

During the Second World War, he served as a war artist, creating works that showed the victorious advance into Germany. After the war, most of his work was in mosaics.

A cover for issue 6 of the the magazine Daesh of 1929, one of his first pieces of aviation art. Are those Fairey Foxes?? The light bomber only ever…

Kings of the Air: When will it be my turn?

All aircrew had to face the likelihood that they would be wounded during the course of their flying career. Gaston Partridge (VB101) was sanguine about the possibility: 'Being wounded, like flying solo, is no big thing and you accept it as inevitable.' On 26 May 1915, Sergeant René Mesguich and observer Robert Jacottet (MS12) pounced on an Albatros of FA12, but the German fought back, wounding Mesguich: 'the bullet went through the fatty layer of my flesh, good old flesh that never did me any harm. It didn't touch my nerves so I could carry on making all those vital actions I needed so much, but it sent warm blood trickling down my arm and I was livid.' Despite the wound, Mesguich still shot down his German. 'It was just enough to make me interesting and give me a few days' rest,' judged the sergeant, 'without preventing me from moving my arm and walking around as normal.'

In 1918, Captain François Coli, CO of SPA62, crash-landed into a hangar…

Kings of the Air: The continual strain

Back in the air again, after that diversion into sources.
Many airmen were afraid before they went into combat. 'Your first flight is a picnic,' thought Maréchal des logis Marcel Viallet (N67). 'Do you think about coming under fire? Your aircraft breaking up in mid-air? The controls malfunctioning. Not on your life. Nothing can rattle you when you first climb into a plane … until the day [the enemy] slips to one side and spears you from behind. By crikey, that makes you mind your step. … The obsession with crashing was awful. Seeing the ground rushing towards you as you fall is so terrifying and so disorienting that my pen has gone on strike. Even if, by extraordinary good fortune, the hero of the drama survives such a dreadful experience, think what willpower must be needed to fly again.'

Many men certainly required a major effort of will to accept what was in effect single combat. 'It's hard to suppress that ancientinstinct for self-preservation screaming at…

Sources for French military history

In something of a mood for reviews after last week's post, I dipped my pen (? or should that be keyboard?) in critic's vitriol once again, and took a look at Milindex, a searchable bibliography newly mounted on the website of the French Ministry of Defence's Centre de Doctrine d’Emploi des Forces (CDEF).
The bibliography is the work of the CDEF's Research Centre, the Ecole Militaire's Documentation Centre and an un-named university. The database includes the following older titles:
Journal des Sciences militaires (1825-1914) (available on Gallica), Revue d’artillerie (1872-1939) (available on Gallica), Revue de cavalerie (available on Gallica 1905-25),  Revue d’infanterie (1887-1939) (available on Gallica), Revue des Sciences Politiques (1911-1936) (available on Gallica),
Revue des troupes coloniales (1902-1939) Revue du géniemilitaire (1887-1959) (available on Gallica), Revue du service de l’intendance militaire(1888-1959)
Revue militaire générale (1907-1973) (available…

A corner of a foreign field

A bit of a break from aviation for this post, to celebrate the revamping of the Mémoire des Hommes site. For those unfamiliar with it, the site is the production of the French Ministry of Defence, and includes digitised historical material on the French armed forces. For the Great War, it includes the record card of every person killed while in service; the surviving unit war diaries (most of the Army's; only a few for Aviation) and carnets de comptabilité (a kind of quarterly muster roll); a partial index of aviation personnel; and a list of digitised regimental histories. It is entirely free.
Some of these have been available for some time now, but now benefits from enhanced usability. For example, it is now possible to search the Morts Pour La France database, not only by name (as used to be the case), but now also by date of death, place of birth, and unit. This opens up a large number of possibilities for studying the impact of the war on individual communities, particularly…

Kings of the Air: Aces High (3): Away from the Front

Everyone admired the aviator, claimed Jacques Mortane, the editor of the weekly magazine La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée, even the ordinary soldier: 'I've interviewed lots of poilus and asked them what they thought of pilots. “They're marvellous,” they told me, “we don't know what would become of us without them”.'
A soldier by the name of Glaure went so far as to write to the pilots of C51: 'We infantrymen follow you from our holes. Nothing you do escapes us. You are our gods. In fact, I would venture to say our guardian angels. If a day passes with no sight of you we're like children whose mother has given them no pudding.'

But other poilus were unimpressed. For one member of 241st Infantry, volunteering for aviation was simply another form of shirking: 'It's a massacre,' he wrote in 1917, 'and we're forced to stay here and resign ourselves to our fate while our fearless officers tuck themselves up nicely in the bottom of a sap. The…