1918, 17 November. Chien de Guerre spoiling an Heroic image?


On the 17th of November 1918 French troops entered Chateau Salins a town in the North East of France.
Part of these troops were the Regiment de Marche de la Legion Etrangere commanded bij Lieutenant Colonel Rollet.
It was an event of special historical significance because this “French” town had been part of Germany since the French – Prussian war ( 1870 – 1871 ).
In the ” HISTORIQUE DU Régiment de Marche DE LA LÉGION ÉTRANGÈRE, the event is briefly described as follows:

A Château-Salins l’accueil est enthousiaste et émouvant. Le lieutenant-colonel ROLLET présente le drapeau, le général DAUGAN lui rend les honneurs ; des femmes viennent embrasser le glorieux emblème de la Patrie retrouvée, le vieux maire et les Lorrains qui sont là ne peuvent retenir leurs larmes…

Photographs were taken during the event and several of these were later issued as postcards.

An intriguing composition

Entrée des Français à CHATEAU-SALINS le 17 Novembre 1918
Le Général Daugan, á cheval, et le Lieutenant Colonel Rollet tenant le Drapeau de la Légion Étrangère pendant le défilè des troupes

I have to admit that, as a keen painter and photographer myself, I was since a long time intrigued by the composition “chosen” of some of these postcards, especially the one shown above.
As per the caption the main subject should be the General on the horse and lieutenant-colonel Rollet holding the famous Regimental flag.
The composition, however, draws all the attention to the actual “stars of the show” the black dog and the child holding the French Flag. The General and Rollet, excusez moi , become somewhat of a side-show.

Looking at the other postcards in the serie issued about the event, one could see that the photographer or photographers really did their best to make some “heroic” images of the event. Apparently, there were, however, simply too many wildly exited dogs and children around to always keep them out of the images.

Moving Images

Whilst searching for images of another event in the history of the French Foreign Legion taken place in 1919 at the website of the “Images Defense”, I found a 21 minute long documentary titled, not very specific, ” La légion étrangère”
Further added are as Réalisateur: SCA-SPCA and as Référence: 14.18 A 696.
As the period are referenced as “Date de début 01/02/1919” and as “Date de fin 30/06/1919”.
It is further referenced that the provided description is not “finalisée (document en cours de traitement et d’analyse)”.
As such when watching this film I was pleasantly surprised when finding moving images of the event on the 17th of november 1918. Somewhat later I saw that this was mentioned in the “unfinished” description.

Leur rôle dans la Victoire et dans la libération de la Lorraine enfin, est mis en valeur :
à Château-Salins (17 novembre 1918) les légionnaires font leur entrée dans le joyeux désordre des femmes et des enfants qui se pressent pour les acclamer tandis que le colonel Rollet, présente lui-même son glorieux drapeau que les Lorrains viennent respectueusement embrasser.

Joyeux désordre des femmes et des enfants

“Joyeux désordre des femmes et des enfants”

The archivist who wrote this description is for me somewhat of a poet describing the scene as a:
” joyeux désordre des femmes et des enfants”.
Note the dogs are not mentioned.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching these moving images, not focussing on the parading soldiers but all the unexpected moves made by the women, children and, yes, doggies.

In hindsight I wondered whether the soldiers marching trough this overexited crowd of people would actually be bothered by the fact that the whole scene does not look “that” heroic but more one of pure joy that the war is over.
This is what they had been fighting for.
And as such I also wondered whether showing this had not been the ultimate aim of the composer of the images.

Frans Janssen

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