Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Vive la Classe! - un deuxième coup d'oeil

It's been a while since we had an eye-candy post, so here's a selection of material connected with the call-up and the conseils de révision.

Conscription had been introduced during the Revolution, and over the years a number of customs had grown up around the event.

The most obvious custom was decorating the conscript's civilian clothing. The commonest decoration was the rosette, in tricoloured ribbons and gold thread, often bearing the motto Bon Pour La Service - 'Fit for Service'. Some even bore a specially minted 'medal' with the same motto and a figure representing the Republic. The canny seller of rosettes placed his stall near the steps of the Town Hall, so when the successful candidates emerged, their first stop would be to buy a rosette.

Some, like the young man from Cornouaille, the area around Quimper, on the left, added a hat as well. Around the crown are broad silken ribbons, decorated with flowers and mottos. Placed behind the ribbon is a small placard bearing Bon Pour La Service - 'Fit For Service'.



In contrast, this group from the alpine village of Champfromier (Ain) are dressed very modestly, with only small rosettes on what must be their Sunday suits. They do however, have a flag and two musicians.





This group of men from the Class of 1910 all come from the same school, the Académie du Torrein, in Roubaix (Nord). Their rosettes are even smaller than the previous group. This may be a regional variation, but in March 1918, Captain J.C. Dunn of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers noted, 'Going on leave, I saw in Steenwerck [(Nord, so the same département)] the latest class of French conscripts leaving home for their depots. Dressed in their Sunday best, beflowered, beribboned, beflagged, befuddled, they were calling at every friend's house and being given liquor. Poor boys.' So, it may just be something particular to this group.
The celebrations of which Dunn speaks were an integral part of the event, and could last for two or three days. These young men of the Class of 1920, from the southern village of Mandagout (Gard) have a more complicated costume, with rosettes and caps.

Another northern group, from Hantay (Nord), in 1933 or 1934, with ribbons, rosettes and flag. 

From photographic evidence, it certainly seems that the more elaborate costumes appear between the two world wars. These customs even lasted into the 1960s, even when the length of service was reduced to a year or eighteen months. It was finally abolished in 1996.
Two typical rosettes, sold to recruits as they emerged from the conseil.
 Another souvenir, in the form of a print. The official phrase 'Fit for service' - Bon pour le Service - was frequently followed by the unofficial 'Fit for the girls' - Bon pour les filles.


Some conscripts with some of those very Girls. From the fashions, this looks like a group from the 1920s. The location is unknown, but the berets suggest a southern village (nowadays we associate the beret with France generally, but in France itself at this period, it was more closely associated with the Pyrenees). The flag, with its Gallic cockerel, reads 'Honour to the Conscripts'.

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