Training and Competition in a French infantry regiment, November 1916

Here’s something rather nice that tells an interesting story. It’s the work of Pierre Perrin, whose letters and memoir of his war service you can read in « Un guerrier d’occasion, journal illustré du fantassin Pierre Perrin (1914-1918) » published by Editions Ouest-France in 2012.

It’s a poster or handbill for a Fête Sportive of the 27e régiment d’infanterie. But most of the ‘sport’ (Foot-ball [sic] apart) is really all about skill at arms.

27e Régiment d'Infanterie Fête Sportive (Sports Day) programme for 17 November 1916
27e Régiment d’Infanterie Fête Sportive (Sports Day), le 17 novembre 1916. From the collection of Pierre Perrin, agent de liaison et artiste au front, Archives départmentales de Saône-et-Loire Ref: FRAD071-008
CC-BY-SA 3.0

With First Prizes of 7 bottles of mousseux (sparkling wine), Second Prizes provided by the Comité Américain (which one – there were several – is not clear) and Third Prize in each competition of 4 bottles of mousseux, as well as a box of cigars for officer and for non-commissioned officer competitions’, the prizes were well-judged for the intended competitors.

There are competitions to test the skills of machine-gunners, semi-automatic rifle teams, riflemen, rifle grenadiers and bombers. The last are to be marked based on accuracy and distance.

And the context for all this drive to motivate the men of the regiment in this way is provided by this short extract from the regimental history:

Extract from Historique du 27e R. I. pendant la guerre 1914-1918 published in 19?? by R. Thorey (Dijon), accessed at 6 Nov 2022.

Two months’ instruction for the division and then the corps at the Camp de Saffais (a large training area in the Meurthe-et-Moselle département to the SE of Nancy) where liaison in the attack (including with aircraft) was a key area of focus. Each infantry section was also provided with precisely the weapons in which the competitions would test the men’s newly-honed skills – the light machine-gun or automatic rifle, the rifle grenade (amusingly described as V[iven].B[essières] ‘blunderbusses’) and the 37mm canon – a close-support weapon.

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