Tuesday, 9 December 2014

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 to be created from scratch from the 1st Battalion, 51st Infantry (the former La Sarre-Infanterie), and two battalions of volunteers, the 3rd and 6th, from the department of Bouches-du-Rhône. These demi-brigades proved too difficult to maintain in the field, so in 1796, a second reorganisation was put in place. The old 101st was renumbered as 25th, and a new 101e Demi-Brigade de Ligne was formed from detachments from four different units.

The word 'regiment' was reintroduced by Napoleon, and the 101st Demi-Brigade became the 101st Line Infantry Regiment. It served in Italy and in Spain, before embarking on the Russian campaign of 1812. The regiment took part in the campaigns in Germany and France during 1813 and 1814, before being disbanded on Napoleon's abdication in 1814. It had no fixed connection with a particular area, and took conscripts from the Vienne, the Ain, Moselle and Doubs departments, amongst others - the recruitment registers can be consulted here. After its disbandment, many of the 101st's men went on to serve with 82nd Infantry during the Hundred Days.

It was re-raised in Lyon in 1855, during the Crimean War, but disbanded the following year without seeing action. It was re-raised a second time in 1859 for the war in Italy, likewise in Lyon. The regiment never saw Italy, but embarked for China, where it took part in several engagements against both the Chinese and against Vietnamese pirates, before being disbanded again, in 1862.

It was re-raised for a third time in 1871, this time at Cambrai, as the 1st Provisional Regiment, its men former prisoners of war returned from German captivity. In the following year, the regiment was renumbered as 101st Line Infantry Regiment. In 1882, like all infantry regiments, the 'Line' element of the name was dropped, and the regiment became the simpler 101st Infantry Regiment. The regimental depot was at Dreux (Eure-et-Loir), with a detachment at Saint-Cloud (Hauts-de-Seine). At mobilisation in 1914, the regiment's reservists formed their own regiment, the 301st Infantry.

During the Great War, the regiment fought in the following actions:
1914: battle of the Ardennes (combats of Ethe and Ruette), First Battle of the Marne (battle of the Ourcq), battle of the Aisne, First Battle of Picardy;
1915: First Battle of Champagne, Second Battle of Champagne
1916: Verdun (fort de Vaux)
1917: Champagne
1918: Fourth Battle of Champagne (defence of Prosnes), battle of Champagne and Argonne (action of Orfeuil and pursuit), battle of the Chesne (crossing the Aisne and attack on Voncq)

Both the 101st and 301st were disbanded after the end of the war. To maintain the traditions of the 101st, its colour was preserved by the 5th Infantry.

A new 101st was raised in 1939 as an A Reserve regiment, serving with 41st Division, but was disbanded the following year. The number has never been used since.

The regimental battle honours are Marengo 1800, Bautzen 1813, Hanau 1813, Palikao 1860, L'Ourcq 1914, Prosnes 1918, and Orfeuil 1918.

A regimental history, in which all the regiment's actions were 'brilliant', was published in 1875 on behalf of an association of former officers of the regiment, and is on Gallica here. A book of humorous sketches of regimental personalities, as well as other essays, by Jules Noriac, which went through an extraordinary forty-eight editions in the 1860s and 1870s, is likewise on Gallica here. An account of the regiment's time in Cochinchina in 1861-62, by one of its officers, is here. A regimental history for the period of the Great War was published in 1920; it has been digitized by the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporain, and is available here, together with a separate list of those killed. However, several pages are missing from the digitized version of both history and casualty list. Other books about the regiment are Actes de guerre. 1914-1917, by Colonel Lebaud (Paris, Charles-Lavauzelle, 1932); P.-A. Roy, Avec les honneurs de la guerre: souvenirs du fort de Vaux, (Paris, Grasset, 1938); and J. Pluyette, In memoriam, (Paris, Imp. des Orphelins, 1918).

Of the other regiments at Dreux in 1914, the 301st are commemorated in Le miracle du feu by Marcel Berger (Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1916), but which has no value as an account of the regiment; the 27th Territorial Regiment, which recruited in the same area, has no published history.

Illustrations: the French Army has an ambivalent attitude to the regiments of the Ancien Régime. None of the latter's battles are commemorated in honours borne on the colours, and modern regiments are not expected to trace their ancestry further back than the regiment that existed at the Revolution. Yet the pre-1789 regimental colours often form the basis of more modern regimental badges. At the top, the colour of Royal-Liègois from the excellent Vexillologie militaire européenne; the badge of the 101st, clearly based on the Royal-Liègois' colours; the basic pattern of the colours of 101st Demi-Brigade (omitting the central device of fasces and phrygian cap), taken from Hollander's great work; a regimental colour from the period of the Great War, in this case, that of the 37th Infantry - I have been unable to find a picture of those of the 101st; and the badge of the new 101st of 1939, both badges from the comprehensive Lavocat site.The cover / title page of the regimental history is from the BDIC's digitized copy.

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