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.

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