Category Archives: France

A Devastated France and Her American Friends

Helping France

Wartime poster depicts a French widow and her child, and a wounded French soldier being helped by a woman in white, a personification of the American volunteers. In the background is a large American flag and beyond that scenes of war damage and devastation. family without a husband. On the right, is a peasant ploughing in the field. Approximately eight million acres of French land were devastated by the war.

These days it has become fashionable in the United States, especially among conservative media, to mock France as a nation of surrendering cowards who lack any sense of bravery or military toughness. This unfounded image is rooted somewhat in the French defeat during World War 2, but its roots are primarily in the fact that France wisely refused to join in the invasion of Iraq, and this angered During the height of the anti-French hysteria and backlash many conservative media personalities urged renaming French fries, “Freedom Fries” presumably because the disloyal French were not worthy of having their name associated with an American junk food stable.

But it was not always like this. There was a time, especially during the First World War, that Americans loved France and French culture. American politicians and the public acknowledged the debt they owed the French for helping them throw off British rule during the American Revolution. And so when France needed help, they volunteered, donated and fought to save France.

The poster above is for a charitable organization called the American Committe for the Devastated French Regions. This committee was formed by the youngest daughter of the American financier Jp Morgan, Anne Morgan (1873–1952) and her friend Anne Murray Dike (1879–1929), a medical doctor.

The organization worked hard to repair the severe damage done to France, which bore most of the fighting on its territory during the entire war. Armies of American volunteers were organized into a semi military organization. They lived in barracks, wore uniforms, and worked long hours. Volunteers had to pay their own expenses, typically about $1,500 a year ( a considerable sum back then).

Despite the rigors and hardships of serving in the Committee, thousands of Americans volunteered, including as many as 6,000 female doctors, who wanted to serve the war effort but who were not allowed to join the American armed forces.


Gas Attack Early Warning Station

gas warfarePoison gas was one of the more appalling weapons developed during world war 1. First used by the Germans, gas killed or maimed soldiers in horrific ways: it burned their lungs and eyes and those who survived suffered lifelong effects and disabilities. To avoid it, soldiers were equipped with gas masks but they could not be warn at all times, so survival depended on being able to put on the mask soon enough, to avoid lethal exposure.

The soldier in this photograph is manning an alarm station. At the first sign of a gas attack, it was his job to sound the alarm by cranking a loud siren which would warn his fellow soldiers that they only had seconds to get their gas masks on.

Collecting the Wounded

wounded soldiers

American Red Cross bring in wounded

An American stretcher party is pictured bringing in a wounded soldier. Collecting the wounded was extremely hazardous, and the medics often became casualties themselves.

Wounded American Soldier

Battlefield Casualty

Medical care, especially on the battlefield was extremely rudimentary. The wounded might have their wounds bandaged and attempts would be made to stop the bleeding, but even basic tools such as IV were not available. The wounded would be carried on stretchers by foot because the terrain was too rough for vehicles, and so they would be jostled constantly, aggravating their injuries and causing extreme pain.

Vietnamese Troops in France

Vietnamese Colonial TroopsThe French drew on their colonial empire to defend their homeland. Troops from the far corners of the French empire were recruited and shipped to France to fight and die for their colonial masters. Troops from Africa as well as French Indochina (present day Cambodia and Vietnam) fought for France.

In this picture a contingent of Vietnamese troops is getting off a transport train en route for the Western Front. About 90,00 Vietnamese men fought in the French army during World War 1 and of these about 30,000 were killed, representing a far higher rate of fatal casualties than experienced by French and British troops. This may have been due to a number of factors, including inferior training afforded to colonial troops, or to the French tendency to use their colonial Vietnamese troops as cannon fodder, in order to spare their own men.

The casualty figures suffered by the Vietnamese are even more appalling when one considers that the majority of the Vietnamese troops were not actually combat troops. Only about 4,500 were actual combat soldiers, the rest served in labour and support battalions, which theoretically ought to have kept them out of the main fighting.To put the casualties in perspective, look closely at the picture above and then realize that every third man in that picture died, so far from home.At the end of the war, the allies adopted a policy of granting ethnic groups the right of self determination. They applied this policy with rigour in dismembering the Austrian Empire and even parts of Germany. But what was good for the goose was not good for the gander. There was never any thought given to granting Indochina self determination or independence and any dissent or nationalist activities were ruthlessly suppressed by the French authorities. A young Ho Chi Minh journeyed to the Versaille Peace Conference hoping to gain concessions for his people but he was rebuffed.Later the French would wage a costly and losing war against their Vietnamese subjects in an effort to keep their overseas empire. The French defeat in the 1950s would lead to the partition of Vietnam and eventually America’s painful experience with the Vietnam war.

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