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Wednesday, 30 January 2013


I found this delightful photograph of the chateau at Chenonceau in the Loire valley. Although this is a little prior to my historical period of interest, this picture shows the development of the building, moving left to right:-

First, there was a castle on the site, built in the 1430's, but this was destroyed except for the keep (or donjon) which is on the left of the picture.

Next, the chateau was built between 1515 and 1521. This is the central block with corner turrets and three-window per floor facade.

Finally, the arched gallery was added in 1555, designed by the architect de l'Orme.

A beautiful building.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A poilu's pack

This photograph is from the Facebook page of the 151eme Regiment d'Infantrie de la Ligne, a re-enactment group. It shows the typical poilu's load - not just his pack and rifle, but part of a tent and tent poles, a cooking pot, three haversacks, a bread bag, a gas mask, ammunition pouches and what looks like a coffee grinder (that most essential piece of kit). Weight - at least thirty kilos.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Filmwatch - and Jean Gabin

This is a photograph of Jean Gabin, probably taken after WW2. For me, he is one of the greatest film actors of all time, ranking alongside Humphrey Bogart, Toshiro Mifune and James Mason. He is famous for a number of films made in the thirties - chiefly "La Grande Illusion" directed by Jean Renoir and my favourite, but also four more - "Pepe le Moko" - "La Quai des Brumes" - "La Bete Humaine" (second favourite)- "Le Jour Se Leve". His career went into the sixties, "Touchez Pas Au Grisbi" is the film I recommend from his post-war list, many people also like "French CanCan".

Since Christmas, we have been to the cinema three times, twice to see "The Hobbit" (we loved it) and once to see "Jack Reacher", which was thoroughly enjoyable. I found Tom Cruise to be a rather convincing Jack Reacher and I liked the story.

On DVD/Blu-Ray, it has been a mixed month. My favourite film has been "Martha Marcy May Marlene", great performances from Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson and John Hawkes, all actors to watch for in the future. A good story of a troubled young woman sucked almost by accident into a small cult and her escape, great cutting and intertwining of the two timelines.

My least liked film was "Margaret" starring Anna Pacquin. I watched what seemed like two hours but was only 40 minutes. I just could not get into it.

The strangest film I watched was "Iron Sky" - Nazis from 1945, now on the dark side of the moon, invade Earth, well New York, - very strange, very low budget, poorly acted, and yet I had to finish it.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

155C in German hands

This is a photograph of a 155C model 1917 made by Schneider. The caption says it has been captured by the German Army and been pressed into use by them.

Was there a German Army policy to use captured artillery pieces? Does any reader know? I have seen lots of photos of German troops in the trenches using captured Lewis guns. I have read of Canadian troops using captured German field pieces such as 77mm field guns on the battlefield. This is the first  time  I have seen such a large artillery piece being used by the opposition. I would like to hear from anyone who can throw some light on this.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Zouaves September 1914

Two more finds on Facebook.

The first shows men from 4me Zouaves fighting outside Lassigny in Picardie, early September 1914, during the Race to the Sea.

The second is a magazine picture depicting the death of the Kaiser's nephew during the Battle of Charleroi, August 1914.

To me, these demonstrate the great contribution of African regiments during the opening weeks of the Great War. Zouaves and Tirailleurs (and the Colonial Infantry) were successfully used to blunt the German offencive, the Schlieffen knock-out blow, and gave to France and the Allies a breathing space needed to field their forces.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Another Facebook find - Fort de Villey Le Sec - near Toul, Lorraine.

Coupole Tourelle155c Batterie Cuirassée (A 155mm howitzer in a domed turret, armoured battery)

Another place to add to my list of places to visit soon.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Generals into politicians

This portrait photograph is of General George Ernest Boulanger (20 April 1837 - 30 September 1891). He joined the French Army in 1857 and fought in Italy, Cochin China and the Franco-Prussian War. He also took part in the crushing of the Paris Commune in 1871. In the 1880's he joined the Government as Minister of War, almost lead a coup in 1889, fled France and committed suicide in Brussels in 1891.

The second portrait photograph is of General Charles de Gaulle (22 November 1890 - 9 November 1970). He became a professional soldier and joined the French Army before the Great War, joining the staff of Colonel Petain. He was wounded and taken prisoner in March 1916, during the Battle of Verdun. After the War he remained in the Army. He commanded the 4th Armoured Division in June 1940, then escaped to London at the defeat of France. He became President of the French Republic in 1959 at the founding of the 5th Republic.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Poilu Painting

A painting of a WW1 poilu found on the web, unknown artist. He looks relieved to be out of the line, possibly.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Soldier Painting

A French soldier in Canada in the mid-1750's, probably from Compagnie Franche de la Marine. Painted by Ron Embleton, found on Flintlockandtomahawk blogspot. Lovely painting, for the man's general lived-in feeling, moccasins, leggings, pack. Love it.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013


I found this very nice picture of a zouave as they were apparelled at the start of WW1, carrying his M1886 Lebel rifle. I cannot credit the artist.

The picture has reminded me of a discussion I have had on several occasions, that Zouaves were native troops recruited in Algeria and Tunisia. My interest in the French military started in 1991 when I found a Britains French infantryman on an antiques stall in Islington. The toy soldier had been repainted. It is part of a half-dozen different sets in the Britains catalogue, first introduced in 1905, this figure is date stamped 9.5.1905 and "deposé". This purchase led to others and soon I came across the zouaves.

An early Zouave figure, also date stamped 9.5.1905
A later production Zouave, probably from 1950's
As you can see, these two zouaves were made 50 years apart, they have very different flesh colours. The older figure has North African colouring, the newer figure has European colouring. Why are they different? I wanted to know, so I did some research.

France started its colonisation of Algiera in 1830. One of the local tribes, the Zouaouas were pro-French and some of them volunteered to fight with the incoming power. The name was converted to Zouaves. Immediately the units had more French than local soldiers, to such an extent that in 1841 the locals were moved into their own formations of tirailleurs.

Two figures from Quality Model Soldiers, a Zouave and a Tirailleur

The Zouave regiments recruited amongst the European emigrés to Algeria and in Paris, Lyon, Lille and Northern France. I have seen preserved recruitment posters from Paris and Lille. As they were volunteers, they were professional soldiers and became elite units. So the later, light skin tone is the correct one, but I think that in the early years of the 20th century, Algeria was seen as an exotic, mysterious place and Britains chose the darker tones to reflect that.

Finally, two more pictures found on the Internet, this time from a set of 1889 lithographs.