Tuesday, 27 January 2015

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 vigilant eye of the corporals, offer the benefits of their experience' to the new men.

But for basic training, recruits were kept apart from older soldiers. The recruits' training programme was divided into several 'schools':
 - the School of the Soldier, in which every man learnt basic drill movements, with and without weapons. There was also some basic instruction on service in the field and in musketry. Its purpose was to develop habits of order, precision and discipline. The sergeant instructors were to be firm but patient and to always appeal to the intelligence of the individual.
- the School of the Platoon, in which the men of two sections learnt to manoeuvre together. Normally, this would begin in mid-December.
- the School of the Company, in which the men of four platoons learnt to behave as part of a larger unit; and
- the School of the Battalion, in which the companies manoeuvred together.

Physical conditioning was compulsory. The first two months concentrated on individual skills in order to get all the recruits fit. From the third month, these exercises were increased in intensity in order to make the men fit for campaigning. Under normal circumstances, by the end of their basic training, recruits should have completed the Platoon elements by 15 March, and be able to undertaken marches of 'medium' length, ready for summer manoeuvres.

Soldiers in the second or third year of their service were to be trained in duties such as scout or runner, in more specialist roles such as machine-gunner, forward observer, signaller, telephonist, pioneer. The men described as by Infantry Manual as 'the more intelligent and energetic' were to be given the position of section leader. Men who had the necessary character and physical energy, and who could read and write, were to be selected by their company commanders as candidates for promotion to corporal. Preference was to be given to those whose wished to become regular soldiers.

Wartime training differed very little from this, allowing for the new specialities of machine-guns, hand-grenades and gas. But in February 1915, attempts were made to streamline the system. While basic training was still done at the depots, further training was made the responsibility of a newly-created 9th Battalion of one regiment within the division. This was amended again in December, with the creation of Divisional Training Centres in every Army. Every regiment contributed a cadre to undertake the training, and the effect was to create a pool of replacements, sent to whichever unit had the vacancies, rather than trying to ensure those from the Eure-et-Loir for example, went only to the 101st. This is not to say that the training period itself was shortened: men of the Class of 1916, for example, were taking nine months to a year to reach front-line regiments.

The war diaries of these training units have not fared well over the years. No diary of a 9th Battalion of any of the regiments in 7th Division (in which the 101st served in 1914-15) or in 124th Division (to which the regiment transferred in June 1915) has survived. The diary of the 2nd Divisional Training Centre within Fourth Army has survived (the 101st served with Fourth Army for most of the War), but not that of the 1st Centre, which provided the men for the 101st. Looking at the career of some the sample mentioned in the last post gives us some clues. François Poussin (Class of 1916, born in Chancé (Ille-et-Vilaine)) was called up into the 136th Infantry in April 1915 before spending a period of time with the 142nd, before joining the 101st in October 1916. René Damiens (Class of 1916, born Andainville (Somme)) was called up into the 54th, before going to the 124th, before reaching the 101st. Both the 124th and 142nd were serving alongside the 101st. Equally, some Eure-et-Loir men fought, and died, with other regiments in the division - like Elie Abajol (Class of 1917, born Vitray-en-Beauc), killed whilst serving with the 130th, another regiment in the same division. But the overall picture will remain confused until further data mining can be done. An analysis of these training arrangements, based on some of the rare surviving war diaries from Third Army, can be found here.
The quotes and line drawings (by Frédéric Régamey) come from a book by L. Picard, Soldat: les débuts militaires, published in 1913, designed to calm the fears of the recruit (and his parents) of the strange new world of the Army. From the top, the arrival at the barracks, the issue of uniform, and the first steps in marksmanship, using a rifle fixed to a frame.

The photo of rope exercises comes from a photo album of an un-named Burgundian conscript on Gallica. And despite the fine words of the training manuals, one suspects that a lot of time was spent wielding a broom, clearing up the barracks (author's postcard).

The standards and training syllabi are contained in a number of pre-war and wartime publications. The 1915 Infantry Manual is on Gallica here; a 1912 manual for prospective NCOs, Le Livre du Gradé, is on Gallica here, the 1914 edition is here; a 1914 manual intended for prospective NCOs and officer cadets, L'Infanterie en un volume is here.

The next post may even find the 101st at the Front!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

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.

Birthplace of men serving in the 101st 1914-18
Plotting the birthplace of each man results in the map on the left. By far the largest number of recruits were born in the Eure-et-Loir, where the regimental depot was located, but with significant contingents from the Orne to the west, the Sarthe to the south-west, and Yvelines (then called Seine-et-Oise) to the east, where the regiment's second depot at Saint-Cloud was located. Small numbers were, however, drawn from most of the départements of the north.

Of the 58 men in the sample born in Eure-et-Loire, most were the only man to come from his commune. Only six communes sent more than one man - Chartres (2), Chaudon (2), Frazé (5), Orruer (2), Saint-Bomer (4) and Villemeux-sur-Eure (3). One might have expected more from the two major communities, Dreux and Chartres - something for further investigation, perhaps.








If, however, we look at men who originally served in the 101st in peacetime, and those who only joined after the outbreak of war, a slightly different picture emerges. Unfortunately, because of the limitations of the available registres, noted above, it is impossible to use exactly the same sized sample - we certainly know the regiment with which each man was serving at the time of his death, but, in the absence of the registre, not his complete service history. Nevertheless, even with a smaller sample, a pattern emerges.
Birthplace of men serving with the 101st in peacetime

The map of the birthplace of men killed in 1914-18 who had previously served with the 101st in peacetime (n=78) shows that the men came from a very narrow range of départements, almost exclusively the Eure-et-Loir and the Orne. The presence of those from further afield can perhaps be attributed to men who had entered the 101st's recruitment area in search of work - the farms of the countryside around Paris would always be busy supplying the capital (and to this day the Beauce remains an important farming area). The one southerner was Lieutenant-colonel François Ferran, born in the coastal town of Gruissan in 1865, who was killed in the first weeks of the war.







Birthplace of men serving with the 101st only in wartime
The places of birth of men who only served with the 101st in wartime (n=69), are much more geographically dispersed. The Eure-et-Loir remains the core of the regiment's recruiting area, but it now includes many more men from Brittany and Normandy, and from the départements of the northern frontier, which had been disrupted by the war. Much of this can be attributed to the exigencies of war - regiments serving in the same division tended to acquire men from a common divisional pool, rather than try to maintain regimental distinctions. In 1917, for example, a typical section in a nominally Picard regiment, the 128th Infantry, was led by a corporal from just outside Paris, who commanded two Charentais from western France, a Picard, a Norman, a Breton, and one man from the Ardennes.

Some men were also transferred in as surplus from their previous regiments: the cavalry only had a small reserve component, and in any case was of little value in trench warfare. For example, Victor Cardin (Class of 1913, from Braffais (Manche)) did his original service with the 12th Cuirassiers, but joined the 101st in 1914; Norbert Ruelle (Class of 1910, from Soligny-la-Trappe (Orne)) served with the 13th Cuirassiers in 1911, but transferred to the 101st in the following year. Equally, Louis Vergès (Class of 1908, from Saint-Vigor-le-Grand (Calvados)) was an employee of the State railway company, the Chemins de Fer d'Etat, and performed his original national service with the 101st, but then transferred to one of the railway operating companies of 8th Engineers, the Army's railway regiment. But when he was recalled in 1914, he was directed back into the Infantry, rather than use his specialised skills on the railways. Had he lived (he was posted as missing in October 1914) perhaps he might have found his way back to the railways, given their greatly expanded role on the Western Front.

Cross-posting was also used for disciplinary reasons. Paul Satgé (Class of 1904, from Vabre (Tarn)) served with a variety of dragoon regiments before deserting in 1916; brought back, he was sentenced to three years' hard labour, before refusing to obey orders and getting another five years. The sentence was seemingly commuted to a transfer to the front-line infantry. He died from the effects of gas in October 1918. Another man, Marcel Darche (Class of 1917, from Lézy-sur-Ourcq (Seine-et-Marne)), arrived at the 101st from the 2nd Chasseurs à pied in June 1917 for disciplinary reasons, although the full details of his case are not given ('extenuating circumstances' are mentioned, but not detailed). But he would be 'distinguished by his elan, courage and an eye for ground in a bold trench raid on the German lines' in October 1917. And again in December of the same year he would be mentioned in regimental orders for his outstanding courage in two more trench raids.

The occupation of every man was noted in the registre matricule. By far the largest number (75) of the men in the sample were associated with agriculture, either as small-scale farmers (48 were described as cultivateur) or as farm workers of different kinds (aide de culture, garçon de culture, journalier or manoeuvrier). Anyone wanting to find out about the conditions of work of these men should read Emile Zola's novel La Terre. Although set in the mid-nineteenth century, it was inspired by the Eure-et-Loir village of Romilly-sur-Aigre. The next largest category was transport (20 men, of whom 14 were waggoners). Smaller numbers came from the domestic, commercial, industrial, retail and building sectors, covering a wide range of occupations from cheese-maker, wig-maker, lawyer's clerk and waiter to stone mason, blacksmith, miner and mechanic.

Every man's page of the registre matricule also contained information on the level of his educational attainment, and he was graded between 0 (illiterate) and 5 (degree-level). Unfortunately only roughly half of the men (121) in the sample had this information recorded. Of these, 94 could read, write and number (grade 3); 22 could read and write (grade 2); 4 could read (grade 1); and one man could neither read nor write. No man was assessed at level 4 (possessing a school-leaving certificate) or at 5. Certainly many men at this higher level were often creamed off by the 'technical arms' such as the Artillery and Engineers, and the presence of a major Engineers' depot close at hand at Versailles may be significant here, but the numbers at that level were small to start with. The number of grade 3 recruits is particularly high - according to the Ministry's own reports on the Army, published in 1912, the national figure at this grade was 56.37%; grade 2 27.21%; grade 1 1.33%; and grade 0 2.74%. A tribute to the département's primary school teachers! The national figures for grades 4 and 5 were 2.5% and 2.2%

Now we've got the men to the regiment, the next post will look at training.

Base maps by Daniel Dalet.