Tuesday, 4 November 2014

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 was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 101st Infantry, whose depot was in Dreux (Eure-et-Loir), while also maintaining a detachment in south-west Paris. He saw action almost immediately, on 6 August around Ethe, in command of a platoon. He was later mentioned in divisional orders for his leadership during the battle: 'Remained alone with his platoon on the position to which they were assigned, even though the rest of the battalion had withdrawn behind the village [of Ethe]. Wounded at Marville on 29 August, but refused to be evacuated. Was wounded again on 21 September at the head of his company.' Over the autumn and winter of 1914-15, his division (the 7th) served on the Ourcq, the Aisne, at Roye and in Champagne.

In June, the 101st transferred to a new division, the 124th. It took part in the autumn offensive in Champagne, around the Main de Massiges feature, before heading for Verdun in May 1916. His company was committed to the defence of Fort Vaux, where it endured very heavy casualties. Delvert was made a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur for his leadership during the battle. Army Orders of 20 June 1916 read: 'wounded twice at the beginning of operations, but returned to the front despite not being completely healed, contributing to the destruction of violent enemy attacks on a neighbouring sector. Was strongly attacked in his turn, putting himself at the head of his bombers, and with a desire not to cede an inch of ground, inflicted very heavy losses on the enemy and maintained his position intact.'

Delvert was wounded four times: on 25 August and 23 December 1914 (both by rifle fire), and on 9 July and 16 August 1916 (by a German grenade and a minenwerfer respectively). He was given the temporary rank of captain on 9 December 1915, made permanent on 4 July 1916.

On 28 August 1916 he was posted to GQG, and then two months later, to the staff of 5th Army. He was still on 5th Army's staff during the Chemin des Dames offensive in April 1917. In July 1917, he moved to 1st Army staff, and so was on hand for the Flanders offensive. He was moved again at the beginning of 1918 to the staff of the French army in Italy.

He was demobilised on 19 March 1919. After the war, he resumed teaching, first at the prestigious lycée Janson-de-Sailly, and then at the lycée Henri IV. Still an Army reservist, he was promoted to major in 5th Tirailleurs in 1925, and was made an officer of the Légion d'honneur in 1927.

He married Andrée Leduc in Paris on 28 June 1920. During the 1920s and 1930s, he devoted much time to writing (more on that in another post) and travelling, including an around-the-world voyage. He died as a result of the long-term effects of his wounds, on 10 July 1940.

As a postscript, on 12 December 2013, a further honour was bestowed on Delvert. Every year, each intake at Saint-Cyr, the French Military Academy now at Coëtquidan (Morbihan), chooses a name for their class, chosen from French battles and distinguished officers. The 2013-14 class of the 4th Battalion (largely composed of cadets heading to the Engineers and supporting services) chose to commemorate Delvert. A video of the naming ceremony (the 'baptism') is on Daily Motion here; the class song, which makes a brief appearance on the video here.

Illustrations: Delvert in c.1917 (from the Saint-Cyr site here); the young Sergeant Delvert (second from right) (from centenaire.org.fr here); Delvert (centre, in the side cap) and some of his men of the 101st (likewise from centenaire.org.fr); Delvert's medals (top row, left right: Légion d'honneur, Croix de guerre, Ordre des Palmes Académiques, Croix du combattant, (bottom row) Victory Medal, 1914-18 War Medal, Italian Croce al Merito di Guerra, Spanish Cruz del Mérito Militar; the badge of the Promotion Charles Delvert; and a scene from the baptism ceremony, on a cold and misty December night (all from the Saint-Cyr site).

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