In Depth Images (2)

A postcard (carte postale) showing ten men who are from various units of the First World War French Army. Two men in the front row have arms in slings, while another is clearly a doctor (médecin). Five men stand on a bench behind the other five. Behind the men are trees and this looks like a park as two other park benches are visible. 
Three of the men are black. One in khaki uniform stands proudly with a look of confidence and one arm by his side, his right arm on his hip.

Carte postale from my collection. It shows an unknown location with wounded and recuperating men and a surgeon. The postcard is badly damaged on the reverse but looks to be dated 25[9?].10.1916. The carte was manufactured by R. Guilleminot, Bœspflug et Cie, Paris.

*** This is not the work of an expert! ***

Ever since I bought this postcard, I’ve wanted to use it for a blog post. I’m fascinated by the image, and I hope you are too. Sadly, the back of the card is quite damaged (looks like it was stuck to something). Also, to be honest, I keep having doubts about its veracity. The image is ‘upside down’ for the reverse of the card and is there just something too ‘studied’ in the poses? Is it really what it seems? But then again, why would anyone fake it?
Anyway, to the detail!

Star of it all, for me, is ce gar exuding pride and confidence. He wears the darker uniform of khaki* cloth of the armée d’Afrique, the turned-down collar favoured by the tirailleurs sénégalais and a capote (maybe not his? Read on) at a rakish angle. His collar has what looks like the daffodil-yellow edgings.

His capote. His collar…
Neither seem to carry the ‘fouled anchor’ of the colonial troops – although every time I expand the image, it looks like there’s something on the collar. The capote like those worn by all the others is probably horizon blue. But look at the guy with the pipe in the back row. Has he and our man swapped hats? The double-breasted M.1914 tunic (paletot) looks right otherwise. It has the two pockets with outside flaps and the ‘pointed cuff’ made of more daffodil yellow braid (see below).

These details suggest we are looking at a fairly late war image. Also, it doesn’t appear cold and there are leaves on the trees. Late spring 1918? So, not 1916 as the message on the card suggests? Another doubt.

It’s interesting that the guy behind him doesn’t seem to be wearing the khaki colonial uniform. But there are several reasons for this that should be obvious.

And then there’s the man in the beret. We can clearly see his insignia. Should be easy to identify his unit, right? Notice, by the way, he wears his beret in the ‘opposite’ style to the chasseurs à pied.

It’s at this point I descended into the murky world of les crapouillots – the trench mortar units. They need a whole blog post of their own. But the bottom line is that he wears the insignia of a member of a batterie de 58 on his beret. A trench mortar battery. But it looks to be upside down! That’s not, I think, totally unusual. So, what about his collar tabs? Nice and clear.

If the numbers (’49’) on his collar are in light blue on red cloth, they say he’s a member of the 49e régiment d’artillerie de campagne – which means he’d be on the ‘bigger’ mortars – by 1918, the 150 mm T Modèle 1917 Fabry, 240 mm LT Modèle 1916 or 370 mm Filloux. That doesn’t work. But the alternative – that he served in a trench mortar battery as part of the 49e régiment d’infanterie – only works if the collar tabs are light blue with dark blue numbers and dark blue braid. They aren’t. Chasseurs à pied? daffodil yellow on light blue. And remember the beret?

Ah, but during March 1918, the trench mortars of the French Army were reorganised into régiments d’artillerie de tranchée. Each régiment had 10 Groupes de 4 Batteries: 1 or 2 of 58 mm, 2 or 1 of 150 mm, 1 of 240 mm so … Doesn’t work. The regiments were numbered 175, 176, 177, 178 and 179ème. So, I can’t make his ’49’ map to a trench mortar regiment in 1918. Is there more insignia/headgear confusion (fun for them, confusing for us!) going on, or this is not taken at the time I thought.

Or we’re back to the question: Is it really what it seems?

The last bit’s going to be hard to write but … if someone colorized [that’s one ugly word] the image, that might offer clues. What am I writing?! Usually, unless in the hands of someone really skilled, the results are dreadful. Kill the thought. Admit it. This one’s got you beat!

Get in touch if you have knowledge, ideas or expertise. Let me know your thoughts. Feel free to tell me where you think I’m right or wrong. Also, tell me your sources and I’ll share the information here.

I hope you enjoyed the post.

* Although frequently described as drap moutarde by English-language sources, I’ve only seen this cloth (so far!) described as kaki, with some references to drap de jaune moutarde (cloth of a mustard yellow colour). Maybe it’s the influence of Second World War French Army uniforms that encourages this.

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