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Showing posts from 2014

Delvert's regiment - the barracks of the 101st

The regimental depot of the 101st Infantry was the Caserne de Billy in Dreux (Eure-et-Loir). Since it was quite close to Paris, Dreux had always been a garrison town. In 1736, a new barracks was built in the then rue d'Orisson (now the rue d'Orfeuil) to house the men of the brigade de corps du roi.
The building remained in use throughout the Napoleonic wars, but by the 1840s it had become cramped and was in need of repair. It was decided to construct a new barracks, on the plateau to the north of the town, and construction began in October 1845.
The barracks was named after a local man, General Jean Louis de Billy (1763-1806). When the Revolution broke out, he was an artillery instructor at a military academy in Paris. He joined the National Guard, and subsequently served with the Armée des Côtes de l'Océan and the Armée du Rhin, and was wounded at Zürich (2 June 1799). He was subsequently promoted to brigadier and commanded a brigade in Oudinot's Division (III …

Delvert's regiment - the 101st Infantry

In 1914, Charles Delvert joined the 101st Infantry.

A little history. Because of the changes that have taken place since 1789, the French rule is that the 'current' regiment is the bearer of the traditions of every previous regiment that bears the same number, irrespective of whatever amalgamations and disbandments occurred. Thus the 101st is the descendant of all infantry units with the number 101. 
The 101st was originally raised in 1787 by the Prince-Bishop of Liège from the French-speaking parts of the Austrian Netherlands. Entering French service, it was named Royal-Liégeois. In 1791, all the old names were abolished, and the regiment became the plain 101e Régiment d'Infanterie.

Even this title smacked too much of the past, and in 1793, regiments were abolished, to be replaced by 'half-brigades'. This came too late for the 101st because the whole regiment deserted in 1792 and joined the Austrians. So in 1793 at Besançon, the 101e Demi-Brigade de Bataille had…

Charles Delvert - his war-time diaries

Delvert was by no means unique in maintaining a diary and then using as the basis for an autobiographical memoir. However, his writing style was so succinct that there was no need for further editing. There is no question of 'horrors recollected in tranquility' - what you see on the printed page was always exactly what was written at the time.
This immediacy and honesty made an immediate impression. Delvert lent his diaries to the writer Henry Bordeaux, who was doing a piece on the fall of Fort Vaux during the battle of Verdun for the journal Revue des Deux Mondes (here and here); Bordeaux was able to use them almost completely word for word, except for changes made in line with Bordeaux's propagandist aims.

In comparing Delvert's original and Bordeaux's version, the normally grumpy Jean Norton Cru was positively scathing: 'Henry Bordeaux's book, the object of so many laudatory reviews, acquires its vivid nature wholly from the memoirs lent to him by Delve…

Another new source on the French Army of the Great War

With the recent centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, new initiatives are coming thick and fast. On 6 November, a new database was added to the Mémoire des Hommes site, joining the existing databases of deaths, unit war diaries and of French aviation personnel. The new database contains the digitised files of those were executed during the war.
During the Great War, 1008 people, military and civilian, French and non-French, were executed for military offences, for espionage or under other existing criminal laws. Of these were 55 were summarily executed; 825 have their files included in the database; the files of 101 men are now missing, but their fate can be found in other sources, such as war diaries and the Morts pour la France cards; a further 27 were killed without trial for disobeying orders. Searching can be done by name, date and place of birth and of death, unit or place of recruitment.
So, what do you get? A number of individual files are missing, so the contents of ea…

The Grand Mémorial - a new database of the French Army

I take a pause in my Delvert-ing activities to post news of a new database on the French Army of the Great War, launched on 11 November.
The Grand Mémorial is a gateway to two sets of digitized documents. The first is the record cards of those who were killed in action - morts pour la France (MPLF). These are already approachable by name, but recently, an indexing project has been undertaken to include the other fields on each card - unit, place of birth and enlistment, place and cause of death (I originally wrote about it here).
The second set consists of the digitized registres matricules, held in each departmental archives across France. These registers list every man who was called up, by the year of his enlistment, with details of his family, occupation, educational level and military career. Many of these are already digitized, but are available only through the website of the archive. What the Grand Mémorial site does is to combine the index of each departmental archive, to wh…

Charles Delvert - his writing

Delvert's first book, Quelque héros (Paris: Berger-Levrault), was published in November 1917. It is simply a collection of factual accounts of gallantry at the front. Occasionally the author's experiences emerge, but all material that will appear in his later books. Perhaps it was Delvert simply dipping his toe in the water of publishing. Nonetheless, it went through at least six editions within a year.
Delvert had always kept a diary, and it is these notebooks that form the basis for his most important works. The first was Histoire d'une compagnie: Main de Massiges - Verdun: novembre 1915-juin 1916: journal de marche (Paris: Berger-Levrault), published in July 1918.
In December 1920, Delvert used his diaries from his time on the staff of 5th Army to write L'erreur du 16 avril 1917 (Paris: L. Fournier). It was this army that took one of the major parts in the disastrous Chemin des Dames offensive. On the opening day, Delvert was able to observe the progress of the att…

Charles who?

So who was this Charles Delvert?

Charles Laurent Delvert was born in the Third Arrondissement of Paris on 27 April 1879, the son of Antoine Delvert, a shoemaker, and his wife Anna Servant, a furniture finisher. A talented student, he attended the Lycée Charlemagne before going to the Ecole Normale Supérieure, from where he graduated in history.

In common with all young men of his age, he saw service in the Army. He actually volunteered in advance of his call-up, and on 10 November 1899, was posted to the 46th Infantry. He was promoted to corporal on 28 May 1900. After his period of service, he spent periods of reserve training with the 96th (Béziers) in 1910, and the 301st Infantry (Dreux) in 1912 (moving around the country in 1908-9, he was also briefly borne on the books of two other infantry regiments, the 100th (Narbonne) and the 17th (Lyon)). He was commissioned as a sous-lieutenant on 16 December 1908.

After graduation, he became a school teacher. Recalled to the colours, he wa…

Ceux de 14 - the critics speak!

With the first episodes of Ceux de 14 having been broadcast on France 3 earlier this week, the critics have now had their say.
Télé-Loisirs: 'a good reconstruction of war', but overall the cast 'was rather wooden'; on the other hand Théo Frilet, as Genevoix was 'convincing'. Overall: Very Good
Télé 2 Semaines: 'convincing casting', but also thought they were 'rather wooden'. Overall: Quite Good
Télé Z: 'we lived, suffered and wept with these soldiers serving during the Great War'. Overall: Excellent
Télé Poche: 'faithful to the original book'. Overall: Good
TV Grandes Chaines: 'a bold production' with 'convincing actors'. Overall: Very Good.
Télé 7 Jours: 'the series is a noteworthy tribute to a generation that was sacrificed', played by 'outstanding actors'. Overall: Good
Télé Star: Overall: Good
So ... 'could be better' by the sound of things; but likewise, could be a lot worse (and we've s…

A new project: Charles Delvert

As Kings of the Air winds down to a conclusion (page proof checking and indexing going on as we speak ... er, type ... er, wotevva), a new project appears on the horizon, once again with those nice people at Pen & Sword.

My new project is the first translation into English of the Great War memoirs of Charles Delvert, Carnets d'un fantassin (An Infantryman's Diary).

Over the next weeks and months, rather than publish extracts hot from the translations face, I'll use the blog to explore Delvert's world, that of his regiment (the 101st Infantry), and the battles in which it took part, using war diaries and other contemporary material. Although I might use the occasional translation, just as a taster!

All this and a new look for the blog pages. It's all go here at Sumner Towers!

Ceux de 14 reaches the screen

In a previous post, I mentioned that preparations were under way to adapt Maurice Genevoix's novel Ceux de 14 for television. The novel has now been adapted into six 52-minute episodes, the first of which is to be broadcast on France 3 on 28 October. Those of us who cannot receive France 3 will have to wait until it appears on TV5 Monde (channel 796 on your Sky box, but Freeview watchers are doomed to disappointment). The good news is that it starts on 3 November at 1835 (other times in other continents), according to TV5's website.
The French Allociné site tries to tempt you with the idea that the series will be a French Band of Brothers. In the way of internet comments section everywhere, a number of public comments laugh at the idea - whoever heard of positive comments on a webpage?

Certainly, the novel relies on a single point of view - it's Genevoix who tells the story - rather than the multiple points of the US series, so the two are not directly comparable. The foot…

Here we are, here we are, here we are again!

After an unconscionable lay-off, it may be time to resuscitate this blog.

Although it may not be universally popular

Since June:  The proofs (not quite galley-proofs, but a manuscript produced from my computer file) of my most recent book, Kings of the Air: French aces and airmen of the Great War, came, got checked, and were then sent back. I'm now waiting for the page proofs. Once those are returned then it's full steam ahead for publication sometime in the New Year.
Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, I wandered into the bookshop in the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna, to find some of my previous books on sale, but translated into Czech. Well, I never.

No, never. Not even once. They spelled my forename wrong with the French Army book, as Jan rather than Ian, but that's OK, because my Czech is non-existant.

I should be able to get back on something approaching my old weekly schedule for next week, with updates of previous posts, and news of a new project. And, …

Kings of the Air: 'War, German style' 3

The third of three posts on Paris under attack during the Great War.

'Berthas by day, Gothas by night,' proclaimed l'Illustration, 'the dull rumble of the guns at the front, the uhlans just "five marches" from the boulevards … things should be pretty grim in Paris right now! [But no.] Everyday life continues, no airs, no graces and no faint hearts. This is our Paris in wartime: no fuss, no panic, no bravado. A model of steadiness and self-control.'

Under the bombardment in Paris was the American Mildred Aldrich: 'We were hardly on the balcony, when, in an instant, all the lights of the city went out, and a strange blackness settled down and hugged the housetops and the very sidewalk. At the same instant the guns of the outer barrage began to fire, and as the night was cold, we went inside to listen, and to talk. I wonder if I can tell you – who are never likely to have such an experience – how it feels to sit inside four walls, in absolute da…