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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.

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