FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 8 - Adventures in Uniformologie
23 October 2016
Back in March, we received the above photograph from a Dear Reader, Monsieur R., who hoped that we could help to identify the uniform. Not our strong point, uniforms, pretty as we find them to be at times.
Monsieur R. has very little to go one concerning the subject of the photograph: his name is uncertain but may be Jules Martin. The photograph was taken in Sarrebourg, Moselle in about 1922 or 1923, at a studio called Gaertner. The hope has been that identification of the uniform would lead to a regiment and, perhaps, a positive identification of the man himself.
Monsieur R. has done a great deal of research on the Internet about the Gaertner studio, about various fellows named Jules Martin (could there be a more common name?) and about Sarrebourg. He has tried posting the photo and his query on many uniform forums and websites. We also contacted the people we know who are passionate about uniforms. Many people suggested that the beret was surely that of the Chasseurs alpins, but theirs seems to be quite a bit larger and darker.
Yet, as that is the only regiment that wears a beret, people kept coming back to it. No one, however, could find an example of the uniform in the pictures of the Chasseurs alpins. We had no success in identifying the uniform at all, nor, so far as we know, had Monsieur R. found the name of the regiment.
Because there was none for that uniform, we have learned, and that is because it is not an official uniform. At a loss, we had gone to the military archives at the Service Historique de la Défense in Vincennes for, at times, one must go to the source. We do so adore going there, at the end of Metro Line 1, although the many changes in the archives administration have meant much more planning is required than in the past. The stumble down the long cobbled road past the chateau and jewel of a church brings one to the still musty but increasingly efficient archives. Once settled into our place, booked weeks earlier, we sought out our good friend, Madame B., and asked for help with a tricky uniform. She immediately rang Monsieur L..
Monsieur L. is no procrastinator and was at our side in a flash, studying the photo, as well as an enlargement of the part showing the collar and its insignia, which could be seen as GG or CC.
The first thing that Monsieur L. said was "This is all wrong!" He elaborated. "The beret, tunic and trousers do not go together; the tunic is iron grey and the trousers are white and such a mix is NOT acceptable!"
The beret is not of the Chasseurs alpins at all but it could help to date the photograph as after 1915. In the summer of that year, the army issued to all infantry regiments a beret of light blue, or bleu d'horizon. Monsieur L. identified the beret in the photograph as being such a one. The Chasseurs alpins apparently were furious that their unique uniform element of the beret had been given to all and sundry. In September of 1915, the light blue beret was withdrawn and no longer to be worn. Thus, it was available for only about three or four months though one can imagine that those already issued were not destroyed.
Yet, this is no help in identifying a regiment, since the beret was issued to everyone in the infantry. Nor does it help in dating the photograph as after 1915, as Monsieur R. already knew that it was from about 1922. The two bars on the beret and the tunic sleeve indicate a rank of lieutenant which, again, Monsieur R. had been able to discover already.
So, what is this hodge-podge of a military get-up? Here, Monsieur L. had no doubt at all. "He had to be either in a hospital or a prisoner, and patched together this uniform for the photograph. Perhaps it was from clothing the photographer's studio had." Others in the forums contacted by Monsieur R. had noted that no shoes or boots were shown in the photograph and Monsieur L. wondered if the trousers that had gone with the tunic might not have been ruined when the man might have been wounded, and that these two oddities could indicate a leg wound of some sort.
Thus, from Monsieur L.'s most helpful advice, we can suggest to Monsieur R. to give up the hunt for a regiment to go with this non-uniform and rather to investigate military hospitals and prisons around Sarrebourg between the wars. Alternatively, he might concentrate on a Jules Martin with a leg wound or who had been a prisoner. Not much help, we know, but if Monsieur L. cannot say more, we doubt that anyone else can do so.
©2016 Anne Morddel