The French have affectionate nicknames for their soldiers of various conflicts. Those who fought in the First World War are known as poilus, which means shaggy. Those who were veterans of Napoleon's Old Guard are known as grognards, or grumblers.
Frédéric Mathieu is a historian who has trawled many sources:
- The National Archives
- Departmental Archives
- Old newspapers, both national and regional
- Legion of Honour files
- Municipal and Communal Archives
- Military personnel files
- Muster lists
- Medal of Saint Helena files
With all of the above he has built a website of the last grognards, Les Derniers Soldats de l'Empire, which can be searched on a number of criteria:
- Nom (last name)
- Prénom (first name)
- Lieu de naissance (place of birth)
- Date de naissance (date of birth)
- Dernier lieu d'habitation (last place of residence)
- Date de décès (date of death)
- Recherche dans tous les champs de la base (search across all fields)
We did a sample search or twelve, putting different countries in the Dernier lieu d'habitation field. Angleterre brought nothing, as one would expect, but so did Mexique, Australie and Pologne. Better luck was had with Belgique, which brought almost twenty names; Etats-Unis brought seven names, Pays-Bas brought just one. If your family has -- as so many seem to do -- a story of an ancestor who "fought with Napoleon", this could be the place where you at last track him down.
Mr. Mathieu has also written a book that is a collection of over five hundred reminiscences about Napoleon: Napoléon, les derniers témoins. A timely publication it is, too, for the two hundredth anniversary of the end of the First Empire is upon us. Mr. Mathieu, being a man for anniversaries, it might seem, has also published works about the poilus, in time for the hundredth anniversary of the First World War. Not that we are the least bit superstitious, but how nice not to be at war just now!
©2014 Anne Morddel