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Showing posts from 2015

A family album

Well, why not? Inspired by the Imperial War Museum exhibition and Twitter hashtag #WhatMyFamilyWore
My grandfather, called up into the Navy in 1918. Since he was an electrical apprentice in civvy street, they made him a hydrophone operator. He trained at HMS Victory II (Crystal Palace, London), was posted to the depot ship HMS Research at Portland, and served on the anti-submarine trawler David Buchan in the Western Approaches out of what was then Queenstown (and is now Cobh). One picture taken in the studio, another of him (bottom right) and the rest of the ship's company (mostly RNR ratings from the Aberdeen fishing industry) after coaling ship.

After the Great War, both my grandparents did a lot with St John's Ambulance. This is him with St John's Cadets at camp on Barton Moss (I think), just to the west of Manchester. What a uniform!

And my grandmother, on the right. It looks as it might be a cadet camp as well (though since the trees are in leaf here, not the same one…

Kings of the Air

In comparison to their British and German counterparts, the French airmen of the Great War are not well known. Yet their aerial exploits were just as remarkable, and their contribution to the war effort on the Western Front was equally important. That is why Ian Sumner's vivid history of the men of the French air force during the war is of such value. He tells their story using the words of the pioneering pilots and observers themselves, drawn from memoirs, diaries, letters, and contemporary newspapers, magazines and official documents. The recollections of the airmen give an authentic portrait of their role and their wartime careers. They cover recruitment and training, reconnaissance and artillery spotting, aerial combat, ground strafing and bombing, and squadron life. They also highlight the technical and tactical innovations made during those hectic years, as well as revealing the airmen's attitude to the enemy - and their thoughts about the ever-present threat of injury …

Just published!

I'm happy to announce that my book Kings of the Air: French aces and airmen of the Great War has just been published by Pen & Sword today. So get yourself down to your bookseller of choice, and buy, buy, buy :-)

My thanks go to everyone who has helped in the production - Maggie Sumner, Katherine Bracewell, Christina Holstein, Rupert Harding of Pen & Sword, the staffs of libraries and museums in the UK and in France, not mention friends on Twitter and Facebook who have Liked, Retweeted, Favourited, and otherwise encouraged me through what was at times a very hard slog.

Delvert in action: Ethe and afterwards

In the days following the battle of Ethe, the regiment wandered back and forth for a few days, as the French tried to position themselves to halt the German advance.
The 101st's war diary does not make much of the regiment's casualties. The only references is a few days later on 27th August, when the strengths of the three battalions are given - 1st Battalion 9 officers, 701 men, 2nd Battalion 2 officers, 229 men and 3rd Battalion 9 officers, 760 men - a little over 1,700 men, instead of the wartime establishment of around 2,750. On the same day, Captain Lasnet arrived with four companies of replacements from the depot.

As a single battalion faced with a brigade, moving away from his supports, Major Louis Laplace and the 2nd Battalion were on a hiding to nothing. The commander of 2nd Battalion was a career soldier, who had joined as a volunteer in 1883, obtaining a commission in 1889 via Saint-Maixent, and served with 49th Infantry, 66th Infantry and 3rd Zouaves.

Thirty-two m…

Delvert in action: 'Always aim for the foot of the target!'

While writing the previous post on the action at Ethe, I read a number of German accounts of the fighting drawn from regimental histories, and reprinted in English in Terence Zuber's Battle of the Frontiers. I was struck by the number of times the Germans report that the French shot high. At the same time, Charles Delvert describes his platoon in action during the battle, and several times he orders, 'Volley Fire'. To a British mind, this immediately brings to mind battles like Zulu, rather than the Great War. So I thought some investigation might be in order.
Firstly, despite the number of references to shooting high that regimental histories contained, German casualties were sufficient on the day to discourage them from pursuing the retreating French closely, so perhaps not every Frenchman shot as high as all that.
What was musketry instruction like? The first part consisted of aiming exercises, with a rifle fixed to a frame. The target was a square, fixed to the barrac…

Delvert in action: the battle of Ethe

The 101st was part of 7th Infantry Division (IV Corps, Third Army), commanded by General Edgard de Trentinian. The division contained four infantry regiments (the 101st-104th), a squadron of 14th Hussars and three groups of 75s from 25th Artillery.
On 22nd August 1914, advancing northwards, the French knew the Germans were ahead of them somewhere, but because of thick fog were unable to ascertain the enemy's exact positions. The advanced guard consisted of the three battalions of the 104th, a group of artillery and two troops of the divisional cavalry; they were ordered to advance over a wooded ridge into the village of Ethe. The main body, the rest of the division, with extra artillery and cavalry, was to follow some 2,000 metres behind. A battalion of the 103rd was given the role of guarding the left flank; the 2nd Battalion of the 101st under Major Laplace, accompanied by half a troop of hussars, was ordered to the village of Bleid, on the column's right flank, and to main…

Delvert's regiment goes to war

The 101st went to war on mobilisation on 2nd August. The regiment's three battalions were made up to their full strength with the younger and fitter, reservists, and it concentrated at its Saint-Cloud depot. After leaving the Army at the end of his conscription period, every man was given a booklet (the fascicule de mobilisation) that, amongst other things, specified on which day he was to report to his depot after general mobilisation was declared. The mobilisation notices tabulated these dates leaving no-one in any doubts as to when they should report. The older reservists formed a reserve regiment, the 301st Infantry (which served with VI Corps in Third Army). The oldest were directed into the 29th Territorials, which formed part of the Paris garrison.
The 101st formed part of 7th Division, part of IV Corps (Fourth Army). The corps concentration area was designated as Verdun, and the regiment proceeded there by railway, via Reims, Sainte-Menehould, Clermont-en-Argonne and Dugn…

Delvert's men - training the recruits

'Here are the first group of arrivals at the gate, led by Corporal Bougonneau, whose dress was precisely according to regulation; he had been especially careful because he was representing the French Army, and more particularly the regiment, before this mob of civilian recruits. At a signal from the sergeant of the guard, Bourgonneau bawled out at the top of his voice, as if he was commanding the whole regiment, "Halt!"'
In depots all over the country, similar events were taking place every October as groups of new recruits reported to their regiments. Once entered on the regiment's books, the quartermaster, 'surrounded by a pile of képis, judged the hat size of each man at a glance, and after a token attempt at a fitting, got for every man a worn, but clean, cap.' Every man then reported to their barrack-room, where their new bed, complete with straw mattress, awaited.
Recruits were placed in a mixed platoon with serving soldiers, 'who, under the vigi…

Delvert's men - recruits for the 101st

The previous posts described the process of calling men up into the Army. What kind of men were obtained for the 101st in this way? Where did they come from, and what did they do for a living before they joined up? I took a sample of 248 men from the names of those killed whilst serving with the regiment. Of these, some came from départements whose registres matricules have not yet been digitized, so information on them is limited, but basic information on their place and date of birth is also contained on the Mémoires des Hommes site. Errors in transcription, making some records unfindable, have also reduced the size of the sample.