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Private, Line Infantry, French Metropolitan Army, August-October 1914


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The dress and equipment of this biffin (‘rag-and-bone man’, the less than complementary traditional nickname for an infantryman) is typical of the archaic field-service dress worn during the first three months of the Great War by French line infantry. Although we cannot be sure of his unit (his collar patches, bearing the regimental number, are obscured), by the lack of rank insignia on his cuffs we can say this man is a Soldat (Private).

 

He wears the Model 1884 képi under a gris de fer bleuté (blued-iron grey) képi cover (either the Model 1902/12 or Model 1913). The double-breasted capote (greatcoat) is the Model 1877, in gris de fer bleuté, the skirts buttoned back in the traditional manner. Despite for a few minor modifications dating to the 1890s, the trousers, of garance (madder-red) cloth, remain the pattern in use during the Franco-Prussian War, i.e. the Model 1867. The ankle boots are the low-topped Model 1912, in black leather, worn with either Model 1897 or Model 1913 black leather leggings.

 

This infantryman is in tenue de campagne (field-service dress), which was in effect ‘Marching Order’, given that full equipment, including the field pack, was prescribed. Those elements of equipment visible in this photograph are:

  • the Model 1893 field pack, in black oilcloth, with integral support straps passing over the shoulders (strapped to the top of the pack we see the bag containing a pair of off-duty shoes).
  • the front braces of the Model 1892 black leather ‘Y-straps’ (these supported the equipment carried on the Model 1845 field belt, not visible here, which included Model 1888 or 1905 ammunition pouches, and Model 1888 bayonet frog for the Model 1886 épée-baïonnette).
  • the strap of the brown canvas Model 1892 haversack, slung over the right shoulder.
  • the black leather strap of the Model 1877 water bottle, slung over the left shoulder.

This soldier is armed with the standard infantry service rifle of the French Metropolitan Army in 1914, the 8 mm ‘Lebel’ (officially, the Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 Modifié 1893).

 

The photograph was taken (or reproduced – the outline of the soldier gives the appearance of perhaps being cut from a group photograph) at the ‘Drouin’ photographic studio, Avenue Carnot, Belfort, in the Territoire de Belfort of eastern France. The message on the reverse of the photograph reads:

 

Souvenir pour Ignaçe

èt Augustine de mon

bien-aimée Marçeau

tué le 9 Octobre 1914

par çes Maudit fait le 24 Mai 1915

 

Regrette eternellement

 

When one corrects the spelling mistakes in this message (perhaps indicative of a working-class family), it translates into English as the following:

 

Memento for Ignace and Augustine of my beloved Marceau,

killed on the 9th October, 1914, by those accursed [Germans].

Done [this day], the 24th May, 1915.

 

Eternally missed

 

(thanks to Mori, Prosper, and David, at Axis History Forum, for translation help)

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