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Tomb1302

Integration of Different Nations on the Front

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Tomb1302

Hello,

I wanted to know about the bond and interactions between French and British soldiers. Did they often encounter and/or interact? Were sectors or trenches shared by people other than one's compatriots? If so, how was the bond, and did they look at each other with admiration or respect?

 

Let me know if you have any other questions.

 

Thank you.

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mva

bonjour, very good question ! Though it will be difficult to find sources ... during my research for : https://somme18.com/  I saw remarks in letters written by French soldiers, but I didn't keep them ... Do ask this in the French forum as well

martine

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Tomb1302
37 minutes ago, mva said:

bonjour, very good question ! Though it will be difficult to find sources ... during my research for : https://somme18.com/  I saw remarks in letters written by French soldiers, but I didn't keep them ... Do ask this in the French forum as well

martine

 

Thank you for your input Martine! Did you create that webesite?

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mva
4 minutes ago, Tomb1302 said:

Thank you for your input Martine! Did you create that webesite?

yes !

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yperman

Louis Barthas in his autobiography 'Poilu' was irritated by  the huge English presence in the Channel ports calling them  'foreign towns'  and by shops specialising in selling English products to the Tommies . He was lukewarm too about the presence of the British army in France -  he says that the English lacked French commitment to France 'and fell back precipitately' . He also accused them of  looting a small town . On the other hand  at Verdun he seems to have been rather taken by the exotic  Moroccan units ( I think he means the 1st Marocaine Division).  Incidentally  Xu  Guoqiin  in his  'China and the Great War' suggests there was considerable fraternisation and some marriage between French female factory workers and members of the Chinese Labour Corps  though he also refers to hostility by the allies of their remaining post War .''

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Tomb1302
6 minutes ago, yperman said:

Louis Barthas in his autobiography 'Poilu' was irritated by  the huge English presence in the Channel ports calling them  'foreign towns'  and by shops specialising in selling English products to the Tommies . He was lukewarm too about the presence of the British army in France -  he says that the English lacked French commitment to France 'and fell back precipitately' . He also accused them of  looting a small town . On the other hand  at Verdun he seems to have been rather taken by the exotic  Moroccan units ( I think he means the 1st Marocaine Division).  Incidentally  Xu  Guoqiin  in his  'China and the Great War' suggests there was considerable fraternisation and some marriage between French female factory workers and members of the Chinese Labour Corps  though he also refers to hostility by the allies of their remaining post War .''

Thank you for your input! I suppose I was quite naive for believing that the relationship between "allies" was pristine - Thank you!

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Tomb1302
5 hours ago, mva said:

I had forgotten that in Barthas' book - which is, by the way, a 'must-read' about WW1

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Barthas

I will try and find it, but am currently reading “Verdun dans la Tourmente”.

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yperman
7 hours ago, Tomb1302 said:

Thank you for your input! I suppose I was quite naive for believing that the relationship between "allies" was pristine - Thank you!

If you were naïve you are in good company as the legend himself - Foch - said 'I lost some of my admiration for Napoleon when I learnt what it is to fight a coalition war' it took the collapse of the English 5th Army for the allies to do the bl**ding obvious and create him 'Generalisimo'.

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Tomb1302
12 hours ago, yperman said:

If you were naïve you are in good company as the legend himself - Foch - said 'I lost some of my admiration for Napoleon when I learnt what it is to fight a coalition war' it took the collapse of the English 5th Army for the allies to do the bl**ding obvious and create him 'Generalisimo'.

It truly is incredible how drastically different war is perceived before, during, and after. Thank you again yperman - If you find any more concrete evidence, don't hesitate to let me know.

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JulianR

Try reading THE MACEDONIAN CAMPAIGN By LUIGI VILLARI With Illustrations and Maps, T. FISHER UNWIN LTD , LONDON: ADELPHI TERRACE , First published in English 1922 for the Italian view on their allies in Salonika

Julian

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kenf48

At a strategic level things began badly, in September 1914 Sir John French claimed that one of the great problems was the lack of ‘unity of command’ yet neither he nor the British Government were prepared to submit to a unified command.  The problem was made more acute by the fact that the French thought they were in command of the BEF.

 

French complained Joffre treated him ‘like a corporal’. He believed French fighting men were excellent soldiers and attributed their failure to ‘no other cause than defective higher leading’.  He had lost all confidence in French leadership and developed a complete lack of trust in them.

 

At a more basic level there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the British had a low opinion of their allies.  It was relatively rare for them to fight side by side and most of the opinions of the British were derived from taking over positions previously held by the French.  

 

Comments on taking over billets included, ‘indescribably filthy and an awful stench’, the same officer noted the French had done nothing in the five months they had occupied the front line, ‘There was apparently a tacit understanding they would not exchange fire...we soon livened the Hun up.’

 

Another billeting Officer hoped,  he would, ‘never have to deal with such dirty people as the French again. I have always found them a dirty crowd, but the condition in which the troops had left this village was simply revolting.’

 

At all levels there were undoubtedly tension, especially on the Western Front but in other theatres too.

 

 

Ken

Edited by kenf48

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mva

interesting, what Ken posted !

I don't think things changed after COMMANDEMENT UNIQUE (march 1918 : http://www.somme14-18.com/commandement-unique

btw : how is it called in English ? I hardly find any mention of it in English web pages eg here : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_Offensive

Very interesting subject ! thanks for having asked in the 1st place, Tomb1302

kind regards from the Somme, martine

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nigelcave

The problem is that everyone was feeling their way with the idea of a supremo in 1918. There were all sorts of complications - as much political as military - with a unified allied command. Take, for example, the fact that the USA, in military terms, was not an allied power but an associate power. Then look at the instructions issued by the relevant governments to their C-in-Cs. On the personal side, allowing for the occasional hiccup, relations between, for example, Haig and Foch were pretty good (built on possibly the finest example pre August 1918 of the allies working closely together and to great effect, First Ypres); and yet on the other hand Foch and Clemenceau had a very poor relationship (Clemenceau even refused to attend the latter's funeral). An early attempt to force a supremo on the BEF by L-G, with the whole Nivelle affair, showed how risky the business could be. Lanrezac, whatever his positives, was not the most communicative Army commander to have on your right in the summer of 1914.

 

In general the British and the French had their own sectors and the main experience of each other close up after November 1914 was when one took over a sector (usually the British, as the BEF expanded) from the other. There was, of course, a fair amount of interaction with French civilians - seemingly endless comments about French farm yards and their prized midden heaps etc etc, watered down wine, being fleeced for egg and chips, general filthiness etc. In 1918, during the German spring offensives, much wittering from both sides of the partnership - the crass handling by the French GOC on the Chemin des Dames in May, countered by what the French considered was the British responsibility for the capture of Kemmel by the Germans. Yet all was sunshine and light by the end of the war - or even by mid August.

 

On the other hand, generally speaking, the AEF got on well with the French; but even then there were notable exceptions - e.g. Clemenceau telling Foch to sack Pershing within a few days of the opening of the Meuse-Argonne.

 

So, for sure, there was plenty of bickering and dismissive talk; but perhaps one should concentrate more on the positives; for, at the end of the day, the alliance stood up remarkably well to all the inevitable strains that such a military/national combination provides.

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Uncle George
On 29 December 2018 at 03:33, Tomb1302 said:

 

I wanted to know about the bond and interactions between French and British soldiers. Did they often encounter and/or interact? Were sectors or trenches shared by people other than one's compatriots? If so, how was the bond, and did they look at each other with admiration or respect?

 

 

Not a great deal of respect in the attached snapshot. This rather patronising passage was written by R. Money Barnes, who served in France with the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. The account is from his 'History of the Regiments and Uniforms of the British Army' (1950):

 

 

image.jpg

image.jpg

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Tomb1302

My goodness, I missed quite a bit. Thank you everybody for your contribution - I had no idea of the complex relations caused by political and emotional misunderstandings and perspectives. I can see now how matters could have become complex, and am aware of the constant ‘bickering’ between both nations. I feel that this perspective into the relations between the two helps better understand the character and tedious alliance they shared, and further strengthens the credibility of all the men involved, as they sustained a strong and enduring alliance regardless.

 

Thanks everybody,

 

Tomb

 

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sheldrake

There is probably an MA or PhD thesis in that topic. It deserves a book and it is a bit of a shame than no one has covered the topic sympathetically in the last century.  Arguably 1940 went badly wrong because we did not build on the Entente Cordial.  The Western Front has largely been a British interest and it is a little shameful that  it took some 20 years for Pen and Sword to publish the first Battleground Europe Books on the French sector of the Somme.

 

If you comb through British memoirs there are lots of mentions of the French.  Some positive and some negative.  In retreat there seems to have been a tendency for memoirs to make disparaging remarks.  In "Last of the Ebb" Sidney Rogerson makes some scathing remarks about the French and how he preferred the Germans after his experiences  on the Aisne in 1918.  I dare say the French were less than impressed with the British Army in retreat.  I wonder if the collective awards of the Croix de Guerre for the Devons and 5 Battery weren't a public statement of confidence at a time when individual relations may have been strained. 

 

Anglo French co-operation has been a bit of a hot topic over the past few years.  The British Army Op Reflect Staff Rides have (re)discovered the French contribution to the western Front and belatedly recognised the transfer of ideas between armies:  Platoon structures and Creeping barrages to mention two. This year there was an even greater emphasis on inter-operability  https://youtu.be/5hchJCHSEsY

 

I had a look at the collaboration between the French and British in the XXII Corps operations in July 1918 in the Tardenois west of Rheims.  This went surprisingly well  under the command of various generals that might have been deemed duffers at some point.  The infantry of XXII division attacked with Italian and French artillery and French tanks in support.  At a low level one unit  was holding a position with a French unit running short of ammunition and issued them SMLE and 303 ammunition. One of the main AAR points was that the (voluntary) welfare services (Tea and buns) should be included as part of the establishment to book transport from the French. Nor was there an effective rum supply.  The details are in reports in the XXII Corps 51 and 62 Div WD for July 1918.   This struck me as an example of the alliance working well post the appointment of Foch as Supreme Commander.  

 

Edited by sheldrake

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nigelcave
2 minutes ago, sheldrake said:

There is probably an MA or PhD thesis in that topic. It deserves a book and it is a bit of a shame than no one has covered the topic sympathetically in the last century.  Arguably 1940 went badly wrong because we did not build on the Entente Cordial.  The Western Front has largely been a British interest and it is a little shameful that  it took some 20 years for Pen and Sword to publish the first Battleground Europe Books on the French sector of the Somme.

 

 

The simple reason for the delay was that I could not find anyone who was both willing and competent to write such books [thank you, Dave O'Mara!] - the same applies, for example, to the delay in books on the AEF in the series; and to why books concentrating on other arms, such as logistics and the artillery, are not yet in existence. On the other hand, it seems to me that the French themselves do not do themselves any great favours. Apart from the completely new versions of the Michelin Guides to the battlefields, it is not easy to find anything that satisfies an equivalent to the BE series in French: even the French language guides to Verdun are not particularly detailed (there used to be an excellent, tho' admittedly rather old, one that was still in print thirty odd years ago but cannot be found now). For example, where (apart from the aforementioned Michelin guide) is there a modern, adequate, guide to the Battle of the Somme in French? If such exists, please let me know and I shall rush out and get it!

 

Agreed that things went well in July 1918: they most certainly did not in late May and early June on and around the Chemin des Dames (Duchene was, in my opinion, quite justifiably sacked on 9 June): and, after all, Foch was de facto supreme commander then.

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sheldrake

Nigel, no criticism of you or Pen and Sword intended.  BE came to mind because David O'Mara's excellent two books on the French on the Somme illustrate what we have missed for the last century.  I was railing against a collective lack of interest by British military historians  or the reading public in the French point of view. 

 

I will return to attempting  to fill gaps on artillery

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Tomb1302

@nigelcave

 

Sorry if I misinterpreted, but are you saying French records for the war in general are poor and lackluster compared to that of the British?

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Tomb1302

Also, what situations or circumstances would prompt a battallion or regiment to occupy trenches of the other?

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nigelcave

No, no: what I am saying is that there are no - or rather very few - guidebooks a la, for the sake of example, the BE series or, say Holts. The best that I have seen is the revised Michelin series - which is fine in so far as they go, but ... I suppose this could be because there is not the interest to support more detailed guides, but I wonder if that is really the case. Production of such guides is a far more commercially attractive prospect then when Battleground started twenty-five years ago - in those days it was cut and paste (literally) etc. Printing costs were relatively speaking far higher then as well.

 

As regards French records - although I have made only limited use of these, from what I have seen they are copious and a very good selection of them is available free to access on the web (including numerous regimental histories). As for the French Official History .... vast - though not exactly light reading - and with excellent maps.

 

 

Sheldrake - no, no offence taken: and a valid point. Two factors had to be considered - first that there had to be a commercial possibility to branch out to the French side of the war; and, secondly, finding someone who had the language gifts, knowledge of the ground, the interest and the time to do it. I had been after someone to tackle the French side of the war for a few years now and feared at one stage that I might have to take it on myself. On a completely different point, Dave and Maarten Otte (author of the AEF titles) are going to do some Franco-Prussian war battlegrounds for the series as well. 

 

 

 

 

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mva

bonjour et bonne année !

- for the French, Verdun is THE battle of ww1, for the British, it is the Somme (see here eg : http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2016/06/30/01003-20160630ARTFIG00126-pourquoi-la-presse-britannique-se-passionne-pour-le-centenaire-de-la-bataille-de-la-somme.php

- back to the relations between French & British soldiers : A. Maurois wrote a novel : "les silences du colonel Bramble" about the BEF & himself as an interpreter ; it is a novel, but based on his own experience. I don't know if there is a similar novel from a British writer.

about André Maurois : https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/André_Maurois   ; apparently, the novel can be read here : http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/49870

& about the novel : https://artsrtlettres.ning.com/profiles/blogs/a-la-decouverte-du-gentleman-dans-les-silences-du-colonel-bramble

- it could be interesting to have a look at the official records of French & British armies when soldiers of both armies were together or not far from each other ; but these are official texts & don't show the atmosphere.

kind regards, martine

PS -

1/ a book about French soldiers at the Somme : http://centenaire.org/fr/autour-de-la-grande-guerre/publications-recentes/les-francais-dans-les-batailles-de-la-somme-1916

2/ perhaps there is something about English&French soldiers in here : http://www.chtimiste.com/carnets/carnets.htm  but the search is not easy !

Edited by mva
ps added

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gmac101

It wasn't all bad - Attached is an extract form the Official History covering May and June 1918 shows that there was some good feeling between the allied forces. Anybody know if the monument is still there?

 

 

Letter to 15th .JPG

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mva
16 minutes ago, gmac101 said:

Anybody know if the monument is still there?

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buzancy,_Aisne : " It was the only monument erected in the field during the First World War by a French unit dedicated to a British one. It was a visible manifestation of the significant resurgence which the various actions at the time of XXII Corps brought about in the French command's faith in the continued fighting ability of its British ally, a faith which had lately been badly shaken by the dramatic British retreat at the start of the German Kaiserschlacht offensive "

Here (among other pics) : https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/buzancy-military-cemetery.html

and (1 of the 3 pics) : https://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/27602/buzancy-military-cemetery/

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