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.

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