Among his works in colonial history are Greater France: A History of French Overseas more than one and a half million French poilus, or front-line soldiers, having snatched The New Warfare , London, , p. 1 The obedient militarists were, of course, the French, the critically Before the carnage of , war did not have the associations it has had since. .. The very term Frontschwein (‘front pig’) was, like the French poilu. the two meter band, France has put military stations in nation of visual poilu tion. For HamVacation in KGIf. LandGuantanamoBay,Cuba. Contact.

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However, it is also representative of a national and political identity which these men embraced as both a reaction to the war and their own conception of republican France. At its most basic level, the term Poilu refers to the appearance of the regular French infantryman. It became custom for French soldiers to grow their hair and beards long at the outbreak of the war as an expression of their masculinity.

In the novel, a highly dangerous mission requires the participation of a group of French soldiers with only forty men being deemed hairy enough to undertake it. Hair as a signifier for masculinity and strength has its roots in the biblical tale of Samson, but with Le Poilu it found an additional resonance in regards to the way the First World War was waged and the reasons behind it.

The nature of trench warfare, with soldiers rapidly coming to live a semi-subterranean life within the frenvh and dirt of La Patrieconvinced French soldiers that it was not possible to fight such a conflict without embracing this mud and dirt. It was not possible to save the country they loved without immersing themselves in its very ground, by becoming dirty, and hairy, frecnh embracing a sense of base masculinity. As a result, to British eyes, the French often appeared unkempt and ill-disciplined.


Additionally, this manifestation of the French warrior spirit also links back to the French rural tradition of men working the fields and the soil of La Patrie in a manner that speaks of both an honest masculinity but also a deep love and appreciation of France as the mother and sustainer of the French people. Beyond this, it also gave an outlet for the expression of the republican identity these men created for themselves.

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However, this relationship is also one of community, participation and debate. The soldiers of the First World War did not view themselves as passive pieces in this situation, devoid of opinion or agency. These positions became clear during the French mutinies of during and after the failed offensive at the Chemin des Dames. When it became clear that General Robert Nivellethen French commander-in-chief, was not going to secure a decisive victory and that French casualties were rapidly growing, reports began to surface of French soldiers baa-ing like sheep on their way trench slaughter as they passed up the lines towards the battle.

This movement spread in a wider display of political dissent as soldiers in the area refused to attack. Their message to the French military command was that they would continue to defend the land of their country but they were not willing to cast away their lives in a pointless offensive. Ftench the surface, this might appear a simple act of non-political mutiny.


However, Les Poilus viewed themselves to be the descendants of those republican soldiers who had built modern France; they believed that both the country and its citizen-soldiers deserved better than death in attempting the unachievable.

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These measures allowed the French infantry to play a crucial role in the eventual victory ofnot simply through their own strength of arms, but through achieving it in a manner that was compatible with their own identity and belief in what the war pilu for and how it must be fought. Whilst the eventual victory had been sufficiently Poilu -esque, and many of those who had served in the French army continued to take pride in their wartime identity, many soldiers began to look outwards in their desire to maintain the peace they had won.

The rise of internationalism saw many former Poilus attempt to foster cooperation between drench various combatants during the inter-war years. The eventual failure of this attempt followed by the defeat of the French army in meant that the Poilu identity did not reemerge as a cohesive movement during the Second World War.

Le Poiluin: International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. This text is licensed under: Understanding the Great WarLondon Une histoire des mutinsParis License This text is licensed under: Images “La tradition”, drawing.

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