Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Poilu is an informal term for a French World War I infantryman, meaning, literally, hairy one. The term came into popular usage in France during the era of Napoleon and his massive citizen armies, though the term grognard (grumbler) was also common. It is still widely used as a term of endearment for the French infantry of World War I. The word carries the sense of the infantryman's typically rustic, agricultural background. Beards and bushy moustaches were often worn. The poilu was particularly known for his love of pinard, his ration of cheap wine.
The image of the dogged, bearded French soldier was widely used in propaganda and war memorials. The stereotype of the Poilu was of bravery and endurance, but not always of unquestioning obedience.
At the disastrous Chemin des Dames offensive of 1917 under General Robert Nivelle, they were said to have gone into no man's land making baa'ing noises — a collective bit of gallows humor signaling the idea that they were being sent as lambs to the slaughter.
Outstanding for its mixture of horror and heroism, this spectacle proved a sobering one. As the news of it spread, the French high command soon found itself coping with a widespread mutiny. A minor revolution was averted only with the promise of an end to the costly offensive.
Needless to say, many Poilu's were the Tarte wearers of the Chasseurs Alpins!