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Remembered Today:

Four Corporals Executed 17.03.1915


geoff2050
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I am trying to find out the story of the 4 French corporals who were executed 17.03.1915.

The are called The four corporals of Souain.

They served with the 136th RI.

All I know is there is a monument to them at Sartilly Communal Cemetery anybody any pictures of this monument.

It maybe a call of place next year.

Many thanks

Geoff

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Good morning Geoff,

This link explains more:

http://moulindelangladure.typepad.fr/monum...7/12/index.html

Photos too !

Shot as an example, for refusing to fight ? Perhaps. The unit diary of the 136e makes no reference to the event that I can see

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In a footnote, P. 28, in his book, " Les Mutineries de 1917", G. Pedroncini mentions this incident in reference to orders being given which were not humanly possible to carry out. here is my rough and ready translation.

The affair of General Reveilhac and the 4 corporals of Souain.

After an attack had been checked, General Reveilhac, commandant of 60th D.I. Had ordered 4 corporals and 16 men to cut some barbed wire in plain daylight. They had obeyed but had not managed to get past the first shell holes. The 4 corporals were condemned to death and shot, 16th March, 1915. A Special Court of Military Justice of Paris had rehabilitated the men finding that the sacrifice of life could not be imposed in wartime when the limits of human strength were exceeded. That judgement took place 29th June,1934.

I would not put my translation forward in an A level French exam but I think it catches the main force of the footnote.

Addition.

After looking at Pedroncini, I remembered another book I had called " Dare Call it Treason", by Richard M. Watt. This has a very different version of the affair and refers the event to Suippes rather than Souain. This is very dramatic and has a last minute pardon arriving from the general just too late to save the corporals. Watt says that the general had been anxious to shoot troops to improve morale and seized this chance to do so.

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A Special Court of Military Justice of Paris had rehabilitated the men finding that the sacrifice of life could not be imposed in wartime when the limits of human strength were exceeded.

For 'the sacrifice of life', read 'the death penalty' - but otherwise excellent as ever, Mr R !

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In a footnote, P. 28, in his book, " Les Mutineries de 1917", G. Pedroncini mentions this incident in reference to orders being given which were not humanly possible to carry out. here is my rough and ready translation.

The affair of General Reveilhac and the 4 corporals of Souain.

After an attack had been checked, General Reveilhac, commandant of 60th D.I. Had ordered 4 corporals and 16 men to cut some barbed wire in plain daylight. They had obeyed but had not managed to get past the first shell holes. The 4 corporals were condemned to death and shot, 16th March, 1915. A Special Court of Military Justice of Paris had rehabilitated the men finding that the sacrifice of life could not be imposed in wartime when the limits of human strength were exceeded. That judgement took place 29th June,1934.

I would not put my translation forward in an A level French exam but I think it catches the main force of the footnote.

Addition.

After looking at Pedroncini, I remembered another book I had called " Dare Call it Treason", by Richard M. Watt. This has a very different version of the affair and refers the event to Suippes rather than Souain. This is very dramatic and has a last minute pardon arriving from the general just too late to save the corporals. Watt says that the general had been anxious to shoot troops to improve morale and seized this chance to do so.

Thanks for the information .

How sad

Geoff

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but my bacon was beeping in the microwave.

Not Phil's avatar, I hope.

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The Wiki translation of the facts of the event say:-

"After man's disobedience of the 21 th Company, General Réveilhac requires sanctions. Captain Equilbey, commander of the company is obliged to transmit to his superiors a list bearing the names of 6 corporals and 18 enlisted men, selected from the youngest to two per squad. On 15 March, the General gave the order for trial direct 24 men nominated."

I wonder why the blame was put on corporals and privates. Did the facts indicate that sergeants and officers had done their utmost to carry out the orders? And why the youngest?

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Not my area of interest Phil but my reading of what I have is that the squad which was set the task was put on trial. Carr says that it was thought that executing 4 corporals would have the desired effect. As far as selecting the youngest is concerned, if Carr's book is any guide, there have been many embellishments added to the story. I would only believe the official accounts and even then, I would be wondering what was left unsaid. As a bit of background; Pedroncini after analysing official archives, calculated that 22 or 23 men were condemned to death per month from August 1914 to January 1917. Many were pardoned, many were not.

P.S. I didn't eat all the piggy. Just one rasher.

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Good afternoon All,

Looking further into the General Reveilhac I came across this piece:

http://history.sandiego.edu/GEN/filmnotes/pathsofglory.html

A link with the feature film "Paths of Glory" with its anti-war position I know but were the sentiments expressed to be from Reveilhac correct ?

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Reading more about Kubrick's "Paths of Glory": the book of the same name on which it is based (by Humphrey Cobb) is said to be based on/inspired by the incident at Souain.

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Sep 23 2009, 01:17 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
The Wiki translation of the facts of the event say:-

"After man's disobedience of the 21 th Company, General Réveilhac requires sanctions. Captain Equilbey, commander of the company is obliged to transmit to his superiors a list bearing the names of 6 corporals and 18 enlisted men, selected from the youngest to two per squad. On 15 March, the General gave the order for trial direct 24 men nominated."

I wonder why the blame was put on corporals and privates. Did the facts indicate that sergeants and officers had done their utmost to carry out the orders? And why the youngest?

Phil,

The divisional diary is more detailed than the regimental one. The incident to which the executions relate took place on 10/03/1915. The link below refers:

http://www.memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.go...001/viewer.html

From reading the surrounding pages the fighting seems intense against German blockhhouses and entrenched positions. Although quite detailed the script isn't the easiest to follow, as best as I can make out when several sections didn't follow the Captain on one attack, those section leaders (perhaps "demi-section" leaders), the corporals,were to put before a "conseil de guerre". Presumably this resulted in the "execution" order.

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If a captain was leading, can we assume it was a company size attack? And did all ranks between captain and corporal (presumably lieutenants, warrant officers, sergeants?) follow the captain and get killed along with the captain? Or did they return? I`m reminded of the scene in the film in which a soldier said he reached the German wire, found he was alone and came back. He was convicted of dereliction of duty as he should have carried on single handed!

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Before the war, the French doctrine was that the supreme element on the battlefield was courage and the will to win. Whichever side had most of that would triumph and that it was much more important than numbers or arms. It follows that if a French army had attacked and failed then this must have been due to a lack of commitment. It is a small step from there to punishing those who displayed that lack of commitment. After the tremendous losses in the Battles of the Frontiers, Joffre was forced to amend that doctrine but it had been taught for years in the military academies. One of its great exponents was Foch. That spirit and belief had been instilled into the officer class for decades. It would take some time to eradicate from their minds. The Special Councils of War which were introduced early on but dropped later, as well as the duty imposed on commanders of inflicting summary execution on those who failed in their duty was a stain on the French honour which they struggled to erase both during and after the war. There was a great reluctance to open up archives and records to public view. This resulted in wildly different estimates of how many men had been shot and also encouraged real incidents like the execution of the corporals to attract embellishment which went unchallenged for so long that it is still difficult to disentangle fact from fiction.

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