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Remembered Today:

French Soldier Recreation


jbenjami
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Hi again,

Slightly different question now....just wondered if anyone knows where the major centres of rest and recreation for French soldiers were along the Western Front? Was there a French equivalent of Talbot House in Poperinghe? Come to think of it, I tend to assume that just the British soldiers were there but maybe this was used by other nations too....does anyone know?

Thanks as always

Jane

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None of the books I have read have mentioned the provision of recreation centres for the French troops. Whether this is an omission or whether it reflects an absence, I don't know. I am reading a memoir of a poilu at the moment and his account has reached the first Lorette action winter 14/15. He has beeen most critical of the lack of provision for the French troops when at rest. So there was no French TOC-H in the early stages at least.

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Thanks Tom...no, I haven't come across anything either. If you can put your hand on your memoirs, could you send me the reference please?....I'd be interested in reading that account too.

Many thanks for replying,

Jane

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" Les Carnets de Guerre de Louis Barthas, tonnelier, 1914-1918". published by La Decouverte. I got mine from Amazon.FR. " Ah, les Carnets de Louis Barthas! Ce livre a une haute valeur historique, et aussi c'est une veritable oeuvre litteraire". Francois Mitterrand. ( from the blurb) .

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The condition for French troops were horrible. I don't think there was anything for French troops, at least until the reforms of 1917 after the great mutiny. The medical care was also terrible; I have heard of French troops on leave (which probably meant being taken out of line and being parked in a muddy field) being so angry about their medical care that they encountered a French army doctor walking past and they beat him to death. Probably not his fault.

I have a book by an American student "of good family" who was a student of architecture in Paris and who was extremely Franco-phile. When the war started he volunteered at the American Embassy, which of course was very busy, especially as I think that they took over the activities of the German Embassy, which had been closed.

When they had time this guy and other staffers, including the military attachee (sp?), would take an embassy car, a bunch of spare tires, etc. (plus their diplomatic status) and roam about France, the front and other areas. His observations are very interesting. (They came out about 1915; later in the war most American writings on the war became horribly propagandistic.) They visited Marsailles, all the way across France from the front, and there were soldiers in bed still wearing their field dressings, and their wound tags indicated that they were wounded five weeks before; they had been evacuated hundreds of miles to a hospital and their bandages put on them on the battlefield had never been removed and/or the wound washed in five weeks!

I have seen the overall French war health statistics and the French death rates from gangrene were enormous. This was especially tragic as this often fatal event might result from a minor wound. My father told me of a startling experience with this as he observed it (French medical neglect) in a German military hospital; it is a complicated story; if anyone is interested I can tell it in detail. (An Algerian soldier with a foot wound, untreated, and thrown into no-man's land by French troops, Germans rescued, gas gangrene, multiple amputations by German surgeons finally saved his life. Some contrast in care.)

This was also true in the Franco-Prussian War. The main French hospital in Paris was a death trap; the American Hospital saved a great number of their wounded.

This young American also took diplomatic dispatches into Belgium, and, although he loved the French and was very angry at the Germans, he wondered at the efficiency and organization of the German Army. My father's worst wound was a problem for over ten years, and he spent over a year in and out of many hospitals, and the care was generally very good. Many allied prisoners report this in their memoirs.

Bob Lembke

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I heard that Pussian Army medical officers were keen students of the multi-volume American Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion as well as of the reforms by Surgeon Jonathan Letterman during the American Civil War.

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Several accounts of the French mutinies would indicate that the almost total lack of R&R facilities contributed greatly to the mutinies. Leave and R&R were simply not organised in any real sense until Petain "took over"

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Bob - I'd be interested to know what the book is that you mention. Sounds like a fascinating read.

Stuart;

Plucked it off the shelves. The Note-book of an attache - Seven Months in the War Zone ; Eric Fisher Wood ; New York, The Century Co., 1915 345 pages .

Bought it in a used book shop, and never researched it on abebooks.com to figure out the market, prices, etc.

Bob Lembke

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How fascinating.....

Sorry everyone, I wasn't able to get back to this page for a little while ....but now find all sorts of interesting stuff posted in reply! I am sincerely grateful...some is a welcome confirmation of my own thoughts but I had not heard of that publication at all and will endeavour to get hold of it now. Can I just ask if this is the source for the French medical stats. as well...I could really do with some solid references for my dissertation and haven't come across anything much for the French medical service.

Thanks a million everyone....much appreciated.

Jane

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Jane;

My memory as to the drift of the comparative medical statistics across the various combatants is fairly clear, but I am drawing a blank on the source. I probably took notes, but I have 1000s of 4" by 6" note cards covering the reading of 100s of sources, and as that topic is not a principal interest of mine it would not be entered into the complex indexing system I have for my materials. If it comes back I will post.

But the disproportionate level of gangrene deaths in the French Army was striking, and a good indicator of poor medical attention. In the case that my father was involved in, the Algerian had a foot wound, his own unit refused to evacuate him, although it would have been easy, being a foot wound. When his unit was rotated out his own unit left him, and the ethnic French unit rotated in threw him into no-man's-land to die. The opposing German troops, hearing his cries, entered no-man's-land, rescued him, took him to a hospital, and was operated on repeatedly, finally the German surgeons performed a radial amputation at the hip joint that saved his life. He was in the bed next to my father, who had excellent French, and discussed his experiences. My father said that his gas gangrene stank horribly.

Quite a contrast. No wonder the anger of the French troops, both in beating the doctor to death, and in the wider example of the great mutiny.

Bob Lembke

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Here are a couple of books mentioned in bibliographies. They seem to me worth investigating further.

Andre Ducasse, Jacques Meyer, Gabriel Perreux, " Vie et mort des Francais 1914-1918. Paris Hachette 1962

Guy Pedroncini, " Le moral de l'armee francaise en 1916" in Verdun1916. Verdun. 1976

and one which I own and may be worth a look by you.

Nicolas Offenstadt , " Les fusilles de la Grande Guerre et la memoire collective". Odile Jacob 2002.

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Stuart;

Plucked it off the shelves. The Note-book of an attache - Seven Months in the War Zone ; Eric Fisher Wood ; New York, The Century Co., 1915 345 pages .

Bought it in a used book shop, and never researched it on abebooks.com to figure out the market, prices, etc.

Bob Lembke

Bob - Thanks for that.

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Joe Lunn wrote an excellent account about the experiences of Senegalese soldiers in the French army, entitled 'Memoirs of the Maelstrom'. Lunn notes that the following, bearing in mind that the black African soldiers were subjected to varying degrees of discrimination:

"The range of indoor public spaces to which the soldiers had access was vast, and they varied according to function. Brothels were regulated by the army, and many soldiers visited them on designated evenings.

Soldiers also sought out places that provided public entertainment, including theaters, casinos, cabarets (which were sometimes adjoining the gambling halls), and cinemas. Like their European counterparts, they were also particularly thrilled by the 'moving pictures'.

Usually welcome in bars, bistros, cafés and restaurants, their presence nevertheless sometimes provoked indignant protests from French clients.

Access to private spaces, such as French homes, was much more restricted. Nevertheless, some Senegalese were welcomed into metropolitan homes on terms resembling social equality."

These observations, based on interviews with veterans before they died, suggest a richer out-of-trenches experience than has been suggested.

Robert

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Just come across this, which is a contemporary account of a hotel established in Paris for French soldiers on leave, particularly those from the occupied areas who had no home to go to. It seems to have been a private initiative, though. Sorry for those without French but it's a bit long to translate.

http://www.greatwardifferent.com/Great_War..._Auberge_01.htm

cheers Martin B

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A place for soldiers to go set up by NCOs? junior officers?. in August 1915. Much as we thought. Nothing in the early days. This seems to have been the first step. A lot more leave entitlement from summer 1917.

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