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French (?) Uniform


Rockdoc
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This photograph is in an album of photos and postcards belonging to my Grandfather. It looks a rather rough and ready photo and I wonder if it wasn't taken by a wandering photographer. The piece of fence is leaning at a funny angle and there is a stone under one of the chair legs. The floor looks like tarmac or similar. I'm sure the original was taken for his girl or mother as he's holding a picture.

I can't see any badges of rank or otherwise on his uniform and there are no numbers on his collar, just a horse-shoe. Does anyone have any idea about him?

I suspect that it was taken in Salonika as my Grandfather appears to have been on good terms with some French gunners, people with much in common no doubt.

Keith

post-5629-1231487772.jpg

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Keith,

I can't help in identifying the unit, however the photo looks to me like it was taken in a studio rather than in the field. The section of fence at his feet looks real, but the section behind and the balcony look painted.

Is there anything printed on the back of the postcard?

Sorry I can't help more.

Scott.

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It certainly has the props of a studio, Scott, but I'm not sure that it was done inside a building from the state of the floor. I perhaps worded my post badly but I meant that the photo was taken by a professional photographer who toured the various camps, setting up shop nearby. A tent would do as the studio and it, with the backcloths, equipment and props, could be taken round in a cart.

There's nothing on the back, unfortunately, but it is with a group of other photos of British servicemen in my Grandfather's album that I'm 95% sure were taken in Salonika. There's circumstantial evidence of a French AA battery near where he was stationed so this may be one of his "mates from across the road".

I understood that French servicemen had the number of their regiment on their collars but this chap has only what looks like a horse-shoe on his and no other badges I can see. He looks a bit suave to be a mere poliu but appearances can be deceptive! I'm sure the forum will come up trumps, as always.

Keith

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It certainly has the props of a studio, Scott, but I'm not sure that it was done inside a building from the state of the floor. I perhaps worded my post badly but I meant that the photo was taken by a professional photographer who toured the various camps, setting up shop nearby. A tent would do as the studio and it, with the backcloths, equipment and props, could be taken round in a cart.

Keith

Lots of "Studio" photos were in fact taken outside, using a large roll backdrop with various scenes painted on it (like this). This seems to have been relatively common even when there was a permanent studio building, as well as the itinerant photographers you mention. I have a number of pictures where this is clearly the case as they have not been cropped to remove the surround and you can see the wall behind (in one case even another figure who should be "out of shot") I'll see if I can dig them out this weekend. Flash photography was expensive and not all that reliable when you had to use flash sheets and powders, so natural light was (and still is!) often preferred. Some of the photos I have have French produced backs (suggesting taken in theatre) others have British postcard backs (suggesting taken or at least printed) in the UK.

For what it's worth the buttons look like French Uniform buttons to me - is it possible to get a better view of the insignia on his collar?

He looks to me as though he is in a mounted role, although no spurs he appears to be wearing riding breeches with reinforced inner thighs and the long leather gaiters (I think they are gaiters but they may be part of "high" boots, although they may not be) either way, both are usually associated with mounted troops.

Chris

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It may well be that photos taken in war zones were more likely to be taken in an improvised studio but I've never come across anything like this one before, except for candid shots, of course. This one is printed on a picture post-card paper and is not mounted.

I'm not sure whether his boots are riding boots or normal boots coupled with leather sleeves strapped to his calves to give an equivalent but I'm sure he's technically mounted. I've gone back to the original scan and extracted his collar tag.

Keith

post-5629-1231515578.jpg

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Hi,

it looks like he's wearing a crescant on his collar, which would identify him to a 'Zouaves or Tirailleurs' (N.Africa) unit...but since he's wearing an entirely blue horizon uniform, (riding) breeches, boots with leggings, modified tunic (breats pockets) I'd guess he'd be a HQ troops, or some other administrative or supply unit. He wears no rank distinction, so he's a simple soldier, thus to well dressed for a front-line, fighting soldier. He could be a gunner (driver) but that doens't explain the crescant...I cannot see a unit nr within the crescant, but then it's hard to see...

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HQ or some kind of base unit could make sense. If, as I suspect, the photo was taken in Greece and, logically, he knew my Grandfather then he must have worked in an area that needed anti-aircraft guns. Also in the papers is the menu from a dinner given by the Semi-Fixe d'AAA 281 on 12 November 1918, wih a dedication to my Grandfather on the reverse, so it's possible that there were French and British AA units sited not far apart and they socialised.

I'm going to the National Archives tomorrow and hope to discover where 99 AA Section was stationed. That would help find any French installations nearby.

Thanks,

Keith

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what is he holding? another photograph?

cheers Martin B

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what is he holding? another photograph?

cheers Martin B

Martin,

It does look like another photo to me. If I had to guess it would be a photograph of a wife/sweet-heart etc. There were commercial versions of this image - a soldier at the front thinking of...[with an inserted vignette of a loved one] or, conversely a woman sitting at home thinking of....[an inserted vignette of a soldier] - I haven't seen one like this before - its a nice touch I think.

Rockdoc; Without wanting to distract from your thread and identifying the uniform/unit etc here is an example of where the "outdoor studio" set up is visible (with man off to the left, apparently wearing a brassard) and the backdrop (with edges visible) in front of an exterior brick wall, also possibly a different backdrop leaning up to the right.

post-14525-1231606304.jpg

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He is holding a photograph. On the photograph I took from the original, before it was reduced to be uploaded, it can be seen as a typical, posed portrait of a lady but I can't tell if it's his mother or his sweetheart. The latter I would expect but you never know!

I suspect this is going to muddy the waters more than a little! Reading the War Diary for the 99th AA Section at TNA today, I found that they were always based at the Harmankoy Tumulus on the Daut-Bali Ridge. That fits very well with the photographs of the guns I posted on another thread (Salonika AA Battery in Other Theatres) which show a large mound in the background. They couldn't have been all that far from Salonika itself because they could see artillery action in the harbour, though whether that was full sight of the water or just the sight of shells bursting in the air isn't clear.

I have no idea where this tumulus was because it doesn't show up in Google maps and my geographic knowledge of Greece is slightly worse than my knowledge of the dark side of the moon! The Diary records the gun crews making a visit to the French Aerodrome at Summerhill, which was also the location of the Artillery Training School. There are frequent mentions of aircraft sightings being forwarded from the French HQ, too, so it would seem that there were French service personnel around the place fairly frequently but I now need to work out where various places mentioned in the Diary were. Perhaps once I've done that things may get clearer.

4thGordons: The set-up for your photo is exactly what I had in mind for my photo. Thanks.

Keith

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