Tuesday, 31 December 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 unit. In the spirit of adventure, then, I picked a common name - Lefèvre - and stuck it in the Keyword box, to see what results it would bring. And the answer was Zero. So I tried another common name - Dupont - and tried again. 

Bingo! I got five hits, but only in the Guard archives. I click on the single page icon at the end of the line, and this brings up the screen of results. The first three lines are false hits - they are simply derived from the indexing heirarchy. Then it immediately becomes apparent that each record is not indexed, because the only hits are to volumes GR 20 YC 25 Degouy à Dupont and GR 20 YC 26 Dupont à Gardegarot, ie where my actual search term, Dupont, figures in the title of the archive piece.

Click on the double page icon to see the actual digitized record. This takes you to another screen, where you need to click on Consulter les images. The results open in a new window. Just as an example of the kind of info that is available, the last Dupont in GR 20 YC 25 is Bernard Dupont, number 25,000, the son of Jacques and Jeanne Saler, born on 26 July 1793 at Clarac in the Hautes-Pyrénées. He was called up in 1813, and on 26 October was posted to the Compagnie de Réserve of the Haute-Garonne. Three days later, he was posted to the 13e Tirailleurs of the Guard, and then on 1 January he was transferred to the 7e. He took part in the campaigns in France in 1814, but was hospitalized on 4 March 1814. There is nothing further, neither the reasons for his hospitalization (illness or battlefield casualty), the hospital into which he was admitted, nor whether he ever left the hospital.

So if you are inconsiderate enough to want to look for a name that isn't in the name of an individual piece, what do you do? Start again at the data entry screen, and click on the top button Consulter l'état des fonds. This takes you to a largely blank screen with a menu in the left side bar. Click on one of the two entries there, depending on whether you want Guards or line infantry. This brings up another link in the centre of the screen, Consulter l'instrument de recherche. Click on that, and the side bar fills up with regimental names. Click on the regiment to see the list of volumes for each unit, then click on the appropriate year/volume, then click on Consulter les images.

However, unlike those of the Guard Tirailleurs, most of the other volumes are not arranged alphabetically, but by date of joining the unit, which makes the lack of indexing all the more frustrating. It would be difficult for any genealogist to trace a family member with only the name to go on. If you are simply interested in the men of the various regiments as a body of men, then there is much information to be gleaned here.

As an example of what the Old Guard volume can contain, Number 1 of the Consular Guard in Nivôse Year 8 (that's January 1799) was Michel Nicolas Cretté, the son of Joseph François Cretté and Marie Antoinette Cumelee, born on 12 March 1753 at St Germain-en-Laye (Seine-et-Oise). His hair was light chestnut, he had a high forehead, grey eyes, a big nose, average mouth, a cleft chin and a round, flushed face. He had joined the Gardes françaises on 9 February 1769; transferred to the Garde de la prévoté de l'hôtel on 1 August 1775 as a grenadier; and from there found his way into the Garde de la Représentation Nationale and then the Garde des Consuls. He was promoted to corporal on 15 September 1792, and to sergeant in the Year 4. A particular note was made of his participation in the 1793 and 1794 campaigns with the Armée de l'Ouest. He served on the regimental staff (petit Etat-Major). He was sent on leave pending retirement on 1 July 1814.

Monday, 23 December 2013

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 ill, never get killed.'

This was followed by a popular song, that featured a more adult couple who survived a Gotha attack (lyrics here). It all seemed to strike a chord in the Paris of 1917-18, under attack from Gothas and the Paris Gun. Quite quickly, small wool versions of the dolls were created - simple for anyone to make (see the diagram on the left), and easy to send to a loved one at the Front.

From here, a small industry in Nénette and Rintintin requisites sprang up. Shown here are a sterling silver pair in brooch form, for those who felt that versions made from woollen yarn were just too common, my dears.

And then there were postcards. I have to say that I find the staring eyes on the left hand card a little scary, to be frank. And the one on the right shows the inevitable result of the one on the left, a little one named Radadou.

But it was not the only charm designed to keep soldiers safe. Some were religious in nature, but then as now, the Republic was determined not to give any kind of official approval to any religion. When, in 1917, members of a group connected with the Catholic cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus suggested presenting their flag to all front-line units, it brought this dusty rejoinder from General Pétain: 'Soldiers (officers and men) who receive flags or banners bearing religious emblems, whatever their source, will turn them over immediately to their commanding officer, who will ensure they are returned to the sender. Generals commanding armies will remind their officers that any act of a sectarian nature constitutes a flagrant violation of the freedom of conscience of their men, and of the neutrality of the French state, and they must refrain [from such acts] while in uniform.'

Others had more traditional beliefs. Jacques Ehrlich (SPA154) was an experienced balloon-buster, a task requiring a cool head and a steady hand. He was also a successful one, shooting down down eighteen 'sausages' (and one aircraft) between June and September 1918. Yet he was always afraid. 'I touched wood all the time,' he confessed. 'I was scared that the Boches would attack me from the rear, that the guns and machine-guns circling the balloon would bring me down; I was scared that technical trouble would stop me getting back. As soon as I'd completed my mission, I pulled off my glove and frantically touched wood again until I was home. But once my feet hit terra firma my fear evaporated. I was wild with delight, roaring with laughter. I might have been at the music-hall.'

The ace pilot Adolphe Pégoud had a mascot of a penguin made from fur. This was a double joke - the French word pingouin sounds similar to his surname (well ... quite close-ish, I guess ... both words start with a P anyway); and of course, penguins can't fly!

And not just the French had mascots. Here is a photo of a German pilot, notable not for the aircraft in the background (a Siemens-Shuckert, if I'm not mistaken - but don't quote me), but for the fact he has a teddy bear tucked under his arm.

And where does the dog come in, you might ask? In September 1918, a corporal of the US Aviation Corps, Lee Duncan, found two abandoned German shepherd pups in an abandoned kennel in Lorraine. Rescuing them, he named them Nenette and Rintintin after the dolls. At the end of the war, he returned to the States with the two dogs. Unfortunately, Nenette died. Realising that Rintintin was a clever animal, he managed to get the dog work in the movies, and so a star was born. The dynasty has currently reached Rin Tin Tin XII.

Pictures: Lee Aakers and Flame (ironically, the dog was not Rin Tin Tin, who failed the screen test!), from the TV series, the Adventures of Rin Tin Tin; Tintin by Hergé from Wikipedia; the cover of Poulbot's book from eBay; how to make your own from situveuxjouer; postcards from pages14-18; a sheepish-looking recipient suspending the dolls from the breast pocket of his tunic; Pegoud's penguin (from the Invalides collection); German pilot and bear thanks to Suth @Pocket_Ted.

Finally a Christmas Poulbot drawing (from the poupendol site). Thanks to everyone who has looked at the site over the past eleven months. A happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year to everyone.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

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 equipped one squadron of the RAF, but certainly look streamlined and modern, which is perhaps what the artist was looking for. The type only served until 1931, when it was replaced by the Hawker Hart; it also equipped the Belgian and Peruvian air forces. He later repeated the motif of parachutists and biplanes in an illustration of a projected children's book.
В воздухе - 'In the air' (1932); in the A.A. Deineka Gallery, Kursk. At first glance this looks like Man Dwarfed By Nature, but could equally be Man Determined To Conquer Nature. I have no idea where these craggy peaks are - they have a look of the Caucasus, but that's hardly a Holmesian deduction. Neither can I identify the aircraft with any certainty. It resembles a Tupolev TB-3 (see the next picture), but looks more streamlined, the tail is wrong, and the plane has no visible means of propulsion. The TB-3 was involved in setting new altitude records, but not until 1936. I think it may be some kind of generic plane, rather than a specific type.

Вомбовоз - 'Bomber' (1932); in the B.M. Custodiev Gallery, Astrakhan. A giant Tupolev TB-3 (the wingspan was 41.80 metres, 10 metres more than a Lancaster or B-17) comes into land. The aircraft was just coming into service when Deineka did the painting. Tupolev had spent some time with the clandestine Junkers factory outside Moscow in the early Twenties, and many of his early designs, like the TB-3, used the same corrugated metal construction. The metal used on production examples was too thick and heavy, so the aircraft itself was a bit of a slug. It saw service in Khalkin-Gol and against Finland, but had to be relegated to night work after the Nazi invasion. It remained a mainstay of the bomber force until 1943. It was also used as a mothership to two I-16 fighters in an experiment of 1941-42, but this use only increased the TB-3's vulnerability in daylight. 

Краснокрылый гигант - 'The Red-Winged Giant' (1938); State Museum of Turkmenistan. If the first painting was Man attempting to conquer nature, here he is, sailing high over clouds and mountains, with Nature duly conquered. The painting commemorates the non-stop flight from Moscow to Portland, Oregon, over the North Pole, by Valery Chkalov, co-pilot Georgy Baydukov and navigator A. Belyakov, 18-20 June 1937, in a Tupolev ANT-25.

Будущие летчики - 'The Future Pilots' (1938); in the State Tretyakov Gallery. Three boys watch a flying boat pass overhead, coming into land. The implication is that they will be inspired to become pilots. Deineka spent some time in the Crimean port of Sevastopol in the mid-30s, and the subject and setting reflect this. From his time there, he produced a number of sketches and illustrations featuring seaplanes.

Планеры в небе - 'Gliders in the sky' (1938) mosaic at Mayakovskaya underground station, Moscow. All the mosaics look upwards, as if they were skylights, following the theme '24-Hour Soviet Sky'

Перед вылетом - 'Before take-off' (1942); mosaic at the Novokuznetskaya underground station, Moscow. The theme of the decoration of the station is the Soviet fighter; not only are there mosaics, but also murals and statues on the same heroic theme.

Deineka's art is essential optimistic, even romantic. A painting like 'In the air', with its remote location and hints of the conquest of the unknown, is designed to act as a spur to the viewer to even greater achievements. 

But I think that, ultimately, Deineka was not an aviation artist, for, following the mosaics in the two metro stations, his work did not feature aircraft. So it would seem they were just a symbol, a means of expressing a wider point at that particular moment in time, one which was no longer valid after the end of the Second World War.

And if цари воздухе doesn't means Kings of the Air, then blame Google Translate, not me!

Pictures: the picture of the artist from Wikipedia; the first four pictures from www.deineka.info; the mosaics from art.liim.ru.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

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 and lost an eye in the process. Nevertheless he refused all medical assistance until he had dictated the following order: 'All men in this squadron, the CO apart, are forbidden from entering the hangars in their plane by any means other than the doors intended for that purpose.'

René Dorme (N3) tried to reassure his parents, 'Just keep telling yourselves that flying is no more dangerous than driving a motor car.' This was not Nungesser's experience. He was badly wounded on 29 January 1916 but two months later was back with his squadron, on crutches, flying missions over Verdun. That December he returned to hospital for attention to his wounds but still he refused to convalesce, shooting down a further six aircraft before he was forcibly rehospitalized with exhaustion. During the war he accumulated a frightening range of injuries: 'skull fractures, concussion, internal injuries, five fractures of the upper jaw and two of the lower, shrapnel in the right arm, dislocations of the knees and right foot, shrapnel in the mouth, withered tendons in the lower left leg, withered calf, fractured collar-bone and fractured wrist.' Given all his injuries, it is perhaps unsurprising he had to use a walking stick. The sniggery tone of 'Vigilant' in his book French Warbirds about Nungesser's gait at a medals ceremony is therefore all the more distasteful. In complete contrast to Nungesser, René Fonck never suffered a scratch.

In 1915, André Quennehen (MF23) survived a near-miss flying with the son of General de Maud'huy as his observer. That September young Maud'huy was killed, serving with MF63. 'When will it be my turn?' wondered Quennehen. One pilot thought it was all a matter of chance: 'If he's unlucky, even the best pilot can be killed the first time he has an accident; if fortune smiles on him, a bumbler can emerge from a disaster unscathed.'

Some men conquered their fear of death by telling themselves they were dead already. Captain Albert Auger was the CO of N3. 'Thinking you might die is what allows you to live life to the full,' he reckoned. 'A willingness to die for one's country is the measure of a man.' Aspirant Pierre Gourdon (MF201), bolstered by his faith, was of a similar mind: 'Don't live your life, but a dream, an ideal. Death is an eternal dawn where the soul lives forever in glory, no longer afraid of the day. Heroes today will tomorrow be angels. All true sacrifice is welcome unto God.'

Some risks were much worse than others: 'The aviator is not afraid of some types of death – being downed by a shell or hit by a bullet, falling quickly and crashing to the ground. His real dread is that he'll see his plane is on fire, realize the gravity of his situation and be burned alive.' Raoul Lufbery (VB106 and N124) had discussed the possibility with this comrades. 'I should always stay with the machine.' he advised. 'If you jump you're done for. But there's always a good chance of side-slipping your aeroplane down in such a way that you fan the flames away from yourself and the wings. You can even put the fire out before you reach the ground. It has been done. Me for staying with the old bus, every time!' Yet, in the event, Lufbery chose to jump. On 19 May 1918 he entered a dogfight with an Albatros. 'Luf fired several short-bursts as he dived in to the attack,' reported Eddie Rickenbacker (94th Aero Squadron), who saw him fall. 'Then he swerved away and appeared to busy himself with his gun, which evidently had jammed. Another circle over their heads and he had cleared the jam. Again he rushed the enemy from their rear, when suddenly old Luf's was seen to burst into roaring flames. He passed the Albatros and proceeded for three or four seconds on a straight course. Then to the horrified watchers below there appeared the figure of their gallant hero emerging in a headlong leap from the midst of the fiery furnace! Lufbery had preferred to leap to certain death rather than endure the slow torture of burning to a crisp.'

Inevitably, most casualties occurred among inexperienced aircrew: 'There were an enormous number of deaths and losses among the young,' reckoned Paul Waddington (SPA154). 'It wasn't unusual for a young fighter pilot to turn up and be dead a fortnight later through lack of experience. After a certain amount of flying time and getting yourself out of a number of tight spots, then fine! You'd every chance of staying the course.'

The constant loss of friends and comrades eventually took its toll of even the most equable of men. '[I was] one of ten pilots who in January 1917 formed the initial nucleus of [N, later SPA]81, under the command of Captain Mandinaud,' recalled Adjudant Pierre de Cazenove de Pradines. 'It was my honour to be the first member of the squadron mentioned in despatches. It was later my sorrow to witness the tragic end of nearly all my valiant comrades from the early days [Mandinaud, Rivière, Caillou, Boiteux-Levret, Raymond, Sauvat], all top-drawer pilots who promised so much. It was a grim time for those who remained. The thought of all these deaths was the only spur we needed to avenge our comrades and continue our mission without allowing gaps to appear. Although a very difficult task, it was accomplished magnificently. Nearly all those who replaced the dead now figure among the ranks the aces and all have at least one victim to their credit.'

Bernard Lafont (V220) watched as a Caudron staggered back to the airfield at Lemmes, behind Verdun. The observer was dead, but the pilot unharmed: 'He was standing by his plane, gabbling away, badly shaken and very worked up. He told us about the dogfight: a Boche had surprised them, a few rounds and it was over. [The pilot] was covered in blood, face and clothes. Blood had poured from his observer's wound and the draught from the engine had sprayed it all over him. He had to land the plane under this horrible shower. He managed to touch it down but he was obviously very emotional; every now and then his limbs started trembling. I remained in front of the plane, abandoned on the airfield. The panels of the fuselage were red; so too the struts and the engine housing.'

'I stare Death in the face every day,' said Lieutenant Rémy Grassal (C13), speaking for many aircrew. 'It doesn't frighten me. Those who of my friends who live through this will tell you that I always did what was asked of me, regardless of danger, and that I gave everything in the performance of my duty.' Sous-lieutenant Raymond Havet (N77) was shot down over Chambly (Meurthe-et-Moselle) on 16 March 1917, probably in combat with an aircraft from FA39. He had described how he wished to be remembered in a note left on his bunk for his CO: 'This Boche was no smarter than the rest of them. I made a mistake and I ask you to forgive me. No tears, no wreaths, no flowers. Just a drop of champagne, later … when the time is right.'

Pictures: Partridge (from La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée); Coli (before his accident); Nungesser (from La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée); Lufbery, Cazenove de Pradines (from La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée); Havet's grave marker at Thiaucourt cemetery (he also appears on the Monument des Morts in Avallon (Yonne))

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

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 you to sheer off and get away from the planes with sinister black crosses,' added Viallet. But Marcel Brindejonc des Moulinais found such feelings disappeared with experience: 'My second clash was very different,' he reported. 'I knew what to expect. Only five rounds hit my plane where it mattered. So you could get away and that idea alone gave me the courage [I needed] to continue.' Adjudant Célestin Sanglier (N62) agreed: 'That little shiver as the first rounds whistle past your ears, then the thrill of combat, and you forget everything, even that you might be hit by a round from your opponent.' Raoul Lufbery (N124) thought that 'opening fire is mildly intoxicating for the pilot; our worst imaginings fade away and we give each other a real peppering.'

Not everyone felt the same. 'I happened across two comrades with the group insignia,' recalled Adjudant André Chainat (SPA3). 'I signalled to them, "Follow me." They did so reluctantly. I put myself in amongst them. I pushed them [and] found my Boches again. I worked out a plan and signalled, "I'm attacking." Happily, I was facing the last in line and I sent him down in flames. I looked around for my comrades. They'd [both] disappeared ... Some are true and some false; some will go [into combat], some will not [and] some just pretend to do so ... some disappear from view until all ... danger is past. Their engine started to sputter, their gun jammed, they were attacked by an enemy superior in number and don't know how they escaped ... if they go out alone they never encounter [an enemy plane].' Paul Waddington shared a similar experience: 'plenty of fighter pilots never attacked, either because they didn't know how, or often because they left it to the patrol leader, who was generally more experienced and the first into the attack.'

As well as the mental struggle, aircrew also had a physical battle to contend with. Cold was a perennial problem. A ground temperature of 15°C falls to -42°C at 6,000 metres. At -34°C, a temperature typical of higher altitudes even in midsummer, the body operates at only 25% efficiency. Some of the effects of cold and oxygen deprivation were known before the outbreak of the war and the newspaper Le Matin organized a campaign to provide warm clothing for aircrew. But it was rather more enthusiastic than helpful: woollen gloves and scarves absorbed water from rain and clouds and then froze. 'I give mine to my mechanic,' one American pilot told James Hall (N124). 'He sends them home, and his wife unravels the yarn to make sweaters for the youngsters.'

'We weren't stupid enough to wrap ourselves in clothes taken straight from a freezing locker,' recalled André Duvau (BR29). 'You took care to lay out your flying suit and fur-lined boots reasonably close to the mess stove. Then, once you were warm, you put on a big woollen jumper over your tunic, 'slipped' into your flying suit, and pulled on your overboots, carefully tightening the belt and the wrist and ankle tabs. On your head went a silk stocking, followed by a silk balaclava, a woollen balaclava and a fur-lined leather flying helmet. You turned up the collar of your flying suit and wrapped a muffler round your neck, fixing it at the back so the wind couldn't catch the ends and whip them into your face. A good pair of goggles completed the outfit, plus a pair of paper gloves with fur-lined gloves on top. We lumbered about like deep-sea divers.'

Exhaustion, mental and physical, struck all pilots – a combination of long flying hours, repeated oxygen deprivation and acute anxiety. 'Flying has a way of ageing you very quickly,' commented the writer Jacques Duval. 'You very soon learn to shield yourself behind an armour of indifference,' recalled one bomber pilot, 'and what you remember of [your] trips is more often some minor irritation – your tie was too tight or your windscreen rattled – than all those moments critical to the outcome of one of [our] four-hour battles.'

Jacques Ehrlich (SPA154) was an experienced balloon-buster, a task that required a cool head and a steady hand on the controls. He was also a successful one, shooting down down eighteen 'sausages' (and one aircraft) between June and September 1918. Yet he was always afraid. 'I touched wood all the time,' he confessed. 'I was scared that the Boches would attack me from the rear, that the guns and machine-guns circling the balloon would bring me down; I was scared that technical trouble would stop me getting back. As soon as I'd completed my task, I pulled off my glove and frantically touched wood again until I got back. But once my feet hit terra firma my fears evaporated. I was wild with joy, roaring with laughter. I could have been at the music-hall.' 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some took to drink. Jean Navarre had always hated discipline, even as a child, and many commanding officers found him hard to handle. Yet his flying abilities made up for a lot. 'In the air,' recalled Captain Henri de Saint Sauveur, his CO in N67, 'Navarre was a phenomenon, a prodigy: he devised the range of manoeuvres known as “aerobatics”, which he had long been developing for use in aerial combat … I still admire him hugely. I'm very grateful for the way he tackled the missions entrusted to him – enthusiastic, dependable and cheerful. And I'm still completely in awe of his dexterity and skill.' Major Charles de Rose was similarly charmed and exasperated in turn. 'Navarre always catches you on the hop,' he grumbled. 'Just when you're about to put him on a charge, you end up mentioning him in despatches.'

But returning prematurely from convalescence after his wounding in the summer of 1916, followed by the death in action of his twin brother, saw Navarre turn increasingly to alcohol. His behaviour become ever more erratic and in April 1917, the worse for drink, he tried to run over some Paris policemen. Hospitalized again, he was not passed fit for service until September 1918 and was still at a training establishment when the armistice was signed.

Some pilots diagnosed with nervous exhaustion were sent to a convalescent hospital at Viry-Chatillon, Hôpital Complémentaire VR75, originally established under the auspices of the Ligue Aéronautique de France, with a 'magnificent ten-hectare park, whose fountains and harmonious design are reminiscent of the gardens at Versailles, available to those who have risked their lives and given unstintingly of their patriotism.' 'The pilots called this hospital Squadron VR75 on account of its number,' recalled one patient. 'They gave us plenty to eat and and we had lots of English cigarettes. We always slipped a few boxes in our pockets when we left to enjoy ourselves in Paris. A big 25- or 30-seater diligence, drawn by four horses, took us to Juvisy station. ... I left the hospital after a month, wearier than on my admission – and with good reason because we led a rather wayward existence.'

Bernard Lafont (V220) was not alone in feeling as he did after a flight over the lines: 'Back at the tents, I stretched out in an armchair, exhausted. My body was tired from all the rapid climbing and descending and the constant changes of pressure. My ears buzzed and the rumble of the engine still filled my head. But above of all I was weary of the continual strain on my mind and my senses … Always risking your life to … to observe some distant object on the ground or in the endless skies.'

Pictures: Viallet (from Wikipedia), Brindejonc des Moulinais, Chainat (both from old postcards), Ehrlich (from La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée), Navarre (from Wikipedia), the hospital at Viry-Chatillon (from the excellent As Oubliés site).