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Showing posts from June, 2013

Kings of the Air: Jules Védrines

Another in a series of posts on French aviation during the First World War, based on research for my forthcoming Pen & Sword book Kings of the Air.
Jules Védrines (1881-1919) was one of the most famous French aviator of the pre-war generation. He was working at the Gnôme engine works near Paris when he became the mechanic for the English aviator Robert Loraine. Védrines was bitten by the aviation bug, and became determined to become a pilot himself. He obtained his pilot's license in December 1910, and by March 1911 was taking part in what were at that time long distance flights, including one from Toulouse to Carcassonne, for which he won a prize of 500 francs (It was an event that didn't impress the council of the latter municipality, who thought aviation had no future. Oops!).
In May, he won the Paris-Madrid air race, flying a Morane monoplane, and followed this by taking part in another race from Paris to Pau. In January 1912, flying a Deperdussin, he achieved the rec…

Wine - that 'extraordinary' drink

An essential part of every soldier's rations was his allowance of a red wine known as pinard. The origins of the word are not known with any certainty, but it was certainly in use in the 1880s.
Poor weather in 1902 and 1903 saw French wine production fall to 35-40 million hectolitres (nearly 770 million gallons); in turn, the price rose to 16, then to 24 francs per hectolitre. Yet in 1904 and 1905, much improved weather meant that production rose by 96% in France alone; between 1900 and 1906 Languedoc alone produced 16 to 21 million hectolitres. In the following years, production continued at the same levels; unsurprisingly, the price of wine slumped to 6 or 7 francs per hectolitre. But the quality of Languedoc wine was poor, and, despite the low price, did not sell.
The outbreak of war solved the wine growers' problem, and they offered 200,000 hectolitres (that's 440,000 gallons for you non-metric types) of unsold wine to the Army - an offer that was gratefully accepted.…

Food, glorious food!

After recent blog entries above the Western Front, it's perhaps time to get my feet on the ground once more, with something close to the heart of every soldier.

The provision of good food for the troops was regarded as an essential. Unit commanders had to ensure that men received three meals a day. The morning meal was to consist of coffee and bread, and if possible a hot dish prepared the night before and kept warm. A second meal was to be served at midday. The main meal was that served in the evening, commanders were enjoined to try and ensure that this meal was well-prepared and nourishing. If it proved impossible to provide such a meal, because of circumstances or the late hour, then a cold collation or something rapidly prepared should be served instead.
At the start of the war, food was prepared by half-sections, one man doing the cooking for three more of his chums. The food would be supplied by the quartermaster, supplemented by whatever food, particularly vegetables, coul…

Kings of the Air: Albert Préjean

Mention of wartime pilot turned actor Albert Préjean in my last post inspired me to see what else I could find about his wartime career.
Préjean was born in 1894, and was called up in November 1914 as part of the Class of 1914. A sporty young man, his love of horses inspired him to join the 25th Dragoons, 'too young', as he later admitted, 'to understand the futility of wars.' He received the Médaille militaire for rescuing a man under fire, as well as the Croix de guerre. Subsequently, he transferred into the infantry, first with the 111th, and then on 21 June 1916 to the 245th, serving in the Vosges. There, he commanded one the regiment's trench raiding teams, and was wounded twice in three months.
He later recalled, 'Leaving military hospital, I asked to transfer to Aviation. This was granted. Flying my own crate, I'd become an ace, part of a little team. It was a magnificent squadron, the Storks with Guynemer ... that's all there is to say.'

He e…


This is a familiar picture - a French soldier, attacking with his comrades, is shot as he approaches the enemy trenches.
But is he?
Here is another photo that makes a regular appearance, depicting a French soldier being dragged from a muddy slough by sympathetic German soldiers.
But does it?

And here is a third, showing troops and vehicles moving along the Voie Sacrée towards Verdun.
But does it?

And the answer to all these questions is 'No'.

They are all stills from a feature film. Verdun: visions d'histoire was written and directed by Léon Poirier, and starred Albert Préjean, Jeanne Marie-Laurent and Suzanne Bianchetti. It was produced by the Compagnie Universelle Cinématographique, and released in 1928. It was one of three major films all released on or about the tenth anniversary of the Armistice - the others were Verdun tel que le poilu l’a vécu (Emile Buhot, 1927) and Le Film du Poilu (Henri Desfontaine, 1927).
Préjean portrays a soldier serving with the chasseurs à …