Bastille Day and Les Sammes

Uncle Sam shaking hands with the Marquis de Lafayette, French poster-1917

 

 

On Bastille Day 1917, General John J. Pershing reviewed French troops and pinned the Croix de Guerre on men who had earned the award by their valor.  The Star Spangled Banner and the Marseillaise were played and many of the civilian observers wept with joy and emotion that American help was on the way.  Today the French are honoring Les Sammes, as they are all year, who came to France in World War I to fight to keep France free.  US Marines will march down the Champs-Elysees with French troops in Paris, a symbol of the good relations that have usually existed between the old Allies.

 

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Published in: on July 14, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Bastille Day and Les Sammes  
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July 14, 1789: First Bastille Day

 

Thomas Jefferson remained enamored of the French Revolution long after most of the Founding Fathers, sickened by the atrocities of the Revolution, became critics of it.  Jefferson was the American Minister to France at the start of the Revolution, and here is his account of the storming of the Bastille:

 

On the 14th, they send one of their members (Monsieur de Corny, whom we knew in America) to the Hotel des Invalides to ask arms for their Garde Bourgeoise. He was followed by, or he found there, a great mob. The Governor of the Invalids came out and represented the impossibility of his delivering arms without the orders of those from whom he received them.
De Corney advised the people then to retire, retired himself, and the people took possession of the arms. It was remarkable that not only the Invalids themselves made no opposition, but that a body of 5000 foreign troops, encamped within 400 yards, never stirred.
Monsieur de Corny and five others were then sent to ask arms of Monsieur de Launai, Governor of the Bastille. They found a great collection of people already before the place, and they immediately planted a flag of truce, which was answered by a like flag hoisted on the parapet. The deputation prevailed on the people to fall back a little, advanced themselves to make their demand of the Governor, and in that instant a discharge from the Bastille killed 4. people of those nearest to the deputies. The deputies retired, the people rushed against the place, and almost in an instant were in possession of a fortification, defended by 100 men, of infinite strength, which in other times had stood several regular sieges and had never been taken. How they got in, has as yet been impossible to discover. Those, who pretend to have been of the party tell so many different stories as to destroy the credit of them all.
They took all the arms, discharged the prisoners and such of the garrison as were not killed in the first moment of fury, carried the Governor and Lieutenant governor to the Greve (the place of public execution) cut off their heads, and set them through the city in triumph to the Palais royal. (more…)

Published in: on July 14, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 14, 1789: First Bastille Day  
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Franco-American Fighters

We will wait for the Americans and the tanks.

General Philippe Petain, 1917

 

Today is Bastille Day.  Our relationship with our oldest ally has been frequently rocky over the years, in spite of the aid France gave us in winning our independence and the fact that the US was instrumental in saving France in two World Wars.  As we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Great War, it is good to recall a time when French and Americans fought so closely together that at times they seemed to be one army.

By 1917 the French Army was in a mutinous state.  Millions of Frenchmen were wounded and dead with little to show for it.  Petain, the victor of Verdun, was made commander in chief of the French army.  He constantly visited units and told them that wasteful, ill-prepared offensives were a thing of the past.  Petain had enjoyed a great deal of success with intensively prepared small scale offensives where he could mass overwhelming force against a small enemy section of the immense line of trenches that stretched from Switzerland to the North Sea.  He had these type of offensives on a grand scale in mind for a rejuvenated French army in 1918.  He also knew two other things:  Allied factories were beginning to produce massive amounts of tanks that could spearhead future offensives and America had entered the War:  the Yanks were coming!  At the conclusion of most of his speeches in 1917 he told his men that they would wait for the Americans and the tanks, a line that never failed to receive thunderous applause from the troops.  The average poilu was a brave man and he was willing to die, if need be, to win the War.  He was no longer willing to die in useless offensives that accomplished nothing, and Petain understood that.

American troops trickled in during 1917 and received a tumultuous reception from the French.  When Colonel Charles E. Stanton, nephew of Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, said at the tomb of Lafayette on July 4, 1917:  “Lafayette we are here!” both nations were electrified.

America sent over endless amounts of food in 1917 and 1918 that kept the French from starving.  The American Navy helped to master the U-boat threat.

By October 1917 four American divisions were deployed to France.  French combat veterans acted as instructors for the troops and much of the artillery was provided by the French.  This of course was only the first wave of millions of Americans training in the US to be shipped across the Atlantic in 1918. (more…)

Published in: on July 14, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Franco-American Fighters  
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La Marseillaise and Edith Piaf

Something for the weekend.  Rushing Bastille Day a bit, we have Edith Piaf, as a child in a film about her life, singing the French National Anthem.  Without a doubt the greatest French songstress of the last century,  Piaf led a life of tortured immorality, and yet she, by her own account, was  the beneficiary of a miracle.  From three to seven she was blind as a result of keratitis.  She was cured when the prostitutes of her grandmother, who ran a brothel, contributed money to send her on a pilgrimage honoring Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.  On her deathbed, dying an agonizing death of liver cancer at age 47, she had a last moment of moral clarity when her final words were uttered:   “Every damn fool thing you do in this life, you pay for.”  May she now be enjoying in the next world the peace that eluded her in this.

My favorite Piaf song is “Non, je ne regrette rien” (No, I regret nothing) which she dedicated to the French Foreign Legion.  When the First Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment surrendered after their involvement in the failed coup attempt against the government of Charles de Gaulle in 1961, they marched out of their barracks singing this song:

It is of course impossible for me to have a post in which La Marseillaise is mentioned without including this clip: (more…)