The unexpected identification of two Legionnaires on a postcard from around 1900
The French Foreign Legion in China in 1900 – 1901 ?
During my many years of historical research I found that discoveries are either a matter of cheer luck or hard work, or a combination of both of them. When reconstructing the biography of a Dutchman called Gerard Hubert DONDERS, who joined the Foreign Legion in 1893, I came across a very interesting entry in his service record. Under the heading “Blessures, actions d’eclat Decorations, etc.” was indicated that he had been awarded the “Médaille commémorative de l’expédition de Chine (1901)”. I had never heard about the French Foreign Legion being active in China. Further research did not reveal any details so I contacted an expert on the history of the French Foreign Legioen the webmaster of http://foreignlegion.info. We had a good discussion and we raised some hypothesis, but concluded further research was required to come with a more definitive answer whether the French Foreign Legion are at least some Legionnaires participated in this campaign.
The postcard “78 LÉGIONNAIRES by J Geiser. Phot. – Alger”
Stil intrigued by this question, some days later I spotted on the website of www.Delcampe.net a postcard depicting 3 Legionnaires in various types of uniforms.
The full legend on the postcard is :78 LÉGIONNAIRES – Tenue de l’intérieur – Tenue coloniale – Tenue de route.
The photographer is the well known Jean Geiser from Alger.
When having a closer look at image I spotted something interesting.
The Legionnaire on the right dressed in the Tenue de l’interieur seems to wear the Médaille commémorative de l’expédition de Chine (1901). I decided to purchase the card to enable a closer examination.
Once I had the card in my possession the examination confirmed it was the China 1901 medal.
Very distinctive is the way this medal is attached to its ribbon, that it by the tails of two little dragons.
The other two medals could be identified as left the Medaille Coloniale with two “agrafes” and right Médaille commémorative du Maroc with one “agrafe, de style oriental”.
However to be perfectly honest the photograph of this Legionnaire clearly wearing the China 1901 campaign medal stil does not prove the French Foreign Legion was involved in the campaign.
Look that is me !
Except the interesting campaign medal shown the postcard had another interesting feature in stock. I had first overlooked it, but there is a small x at the left foot of the Legionnaire on the right in the Tenue en route.
On the back of the card, which was sent to “Mademoiselle Marie” was written:
Voila la tenu de route relui qui a la croix au pied.
From an anonymous “homme sans nom” we now know the Legionnaire on the right was named Auguste Bleger.
Sud-Oranais Cartes Non Situées
But this was not the end of it. Jean Geiser typically issued his postcard of a similar topic as a serie and the number of this card 78 suggested there should be more similar images. The best and only known reference for me of postcard of the Foreign Legion is the book by Jacques Gandini ” La Légion a travers les cartes postales 1900 – 1962″ from 1997. It contains hundreds of images, sorted on various subjects like the locations. Its is clearly stated besides a lot of effort it is not complete and more cards exist. Card 78 is not in it but similar cards were found on pages 89-90, denoted under the heading Sud-Oranais, Cartes Non Situées.
Shown are the following numbers:
2. Tenue du Sud-Oranais – Tenue Coloniale – Tenue de Campagne Algerie – Legion Etrangère
3. Légionnaires, tenue du Sud-Oranais
6. Sud-Oranais – Légionnaires, tenue de campagne
41. Légionnaire (Anglais) tenue de campagne
It was the legend of this last card that triggered my memory, I had seen this text and image before.
In completion of this serie not shown in Gandini
L’illustration 19th of July 1913
The image of Legionnaire (Anglais) was shown in the L’illustration from the 19th of July 1913. In this article a legend indicates his name: De Bulmerincq serving in the 2e etranger.
But thats not all, we also see the Legionnaire with de Chine 1901 medal, the legend indicates his name is Verollet, that he is French, having 12 years of service and participated in 15 campaigns.
When were the photographs taken
Even the data when the photograph were taken can be made more specific:
On the the 9th of August 1913 an atricle about the Legion is published in L’Afrique du Nord illustrée.
It starts with a letter from Jean Geiser to Monsieur le Directeur de l’Afrique du Nord illustrée.
Jean Geiser wrote that he took the images during June and July 1911.
Still some work to do, but some previous anonymes Legionnaires now have a name and a number of Photopgrahs depicted on postcards can be put better into their historical context.
Completion of the “Legionnaires serie”, not shown in Gandini
7. Algérie – Légion Etrangère, tenue coloniale
39. Légionnaire (ALLEMAND) tenue de campagne d’Afrique
78. LÉGIONNAIRES – Tenue de l’intérieur – Tenue coloniale – Tenue de route.