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La défense du drapeau ...
Defense of the flag. The soldiers of the 10th infantry save the flag
Lithograph with hand colouring through stencils. Publisher: Tolmer & Co. November 1914
Given by Sophie Gurney 1994

No. 28 from the series La Grande Guerre.

Some events retrospectively regarded as pivotal moments in the war go unrecorded in the series, such as the Christmas truce of 1914, which was tantamount to treason, or Triple Entente (Allied) defeats, such as the battles of Le Cateau, Mons or Tannenberg. Other events, including this example, focus on seemingly inconsequential moments. Censorship in France was strong from the very start of the war. No journalists were allowed at front lines, and the public were fed scant government reports. Nothing 'excessive', good or bad, could be printed for fear it would weaken the morale of the country. This print is devoted to the telling of an escapade in the Alsace region. The caption explains the scene: a French regiment, which lost two flag bearers to German snipers, decided to submerge the flag beneath rocks on a river bed and returned the following day to retrieve it and bring it to safety. The significance for the viewer in 1914 lies of course in the symbolic value of the flag, but for present-day viewer the story is desperately poignant, even if fictitious. Soldiers marching to the front line with standard bearers and trumpeters, wearing brightly coloured uniforms and white gloves, are from an era that had already passed by 1914.




The French caption with English translation:

LA DÉFENSE DU DRAPEAU. LES SOLDATS DU X... RÉGIMENT D'INFANTERIE SAUVENT LE DRAPEAU
Pendant les combats sanglants qui surent lieu en Alsace, le X régiment d'infanterie avait dû subir un terrible assaut des masses ennemies. Pendant l'action, le porte-drapeau fut blessé : il fut aussitôt remplacé par un autre officier qui fut atteint également. Voyant que l'ennemi en voulait à nos trois couleurs nos soldats s'emparèrent de l'étoffe sacrée, puis ils se jettèrent dans la rivière voisins et immergèrent le drapeau sous des pierres : le régiment se retirra ensuite sur une position plus sûre. La nuit suivante un capitaine et quelques hommes se dirigèrent en rampant le long de la rivière : après franchi trois kilometres, ils arrivèrent à l'endroit où le drapeau était immergé, ils le sortirent de l'eau, et, heureux et fiers regagnèrent les lignes françaises avec leur précieux fardeau.

Defence of the flag. The soldiers of the X.. infantry regiment save the flag
During the bloody battles which took place in Alsace, the X Infantry Regiment endured a terrible onslaught of enemy masses. During the action, the standard-bearer was wounded. He was immediately replaced by another officer, who was also hit. Seeing that the enemy wanted our flag, our soldiers seized the sacred cloth and threw themselves in the nearby river and immersed the flag under the stones. The regiment then retired to a safer position. The next night a captain and a few men headed back, crawling all the way along the river. After covering three kilometres they arrived at the place the flag was immersed. They took it out of the water and returned to French lines with their precious burden, happy and proud.

p.30-1994 (link to catalogue record)


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