Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Most everyone is familiar with the terms "Doughboy" and "Tommy" as the generic address for American and British infantrymen of World War I.  Perhaps less familiar, although certainly not less used in its day, was the use of "Poilu" to describe a French soldier.

A Stereotypical Poilu

You can't read much on the Great War without coming across this term at some point.  It was a term of affection.

Another Poilu

I just learned that Poilu means hairy, which makes sense if you ever look at photos from World War I.  There are far more French soldiers with prominent facial hair than can be found among their allies.

A Poilu in the trenches early in the war

The term Poilu began to be used during the Napoleonic Era when the Grand Armée was largely drawn from the massive pool of unshaved farmers.

French Soldier After Battle

Poilus had the image of being long-suffering and brave, but also grumblers (this lead to the less flattering, but also common term, "Grognard") and prone to disobey unreasonable orders on pragmatic grounds.

A Poilu at Rest 

The clean-shaven American doughboys were instead known for their youthful optimism and their cheerful naïveté.


recumbent conspiracy theorist said...

Shaving is a pain even in the best of times. I Can't blame them for a little shagginess on the battlefield. Looks like they were fond of their smoking pipes too.

Nate Maas said...

Ha ha, Mike! Looks like I touched on a number of your interests - facial hair, military history, and pipe smoking - totally inadvertently. I'm surprised you didn't comment on the bicycle in the next to last photo. All I need now is a photo of a Poilu with a telephone insulator and a ham radio!

Unknown said...

Another interesting nickname I was not familiar with until recently is Kiwi for New Zealand troops

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