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Poilu /ˈpwɑːluː/; French: pwaly1 is an informal term for a French World War I infantryman, meaning, literally, hairy one It is still widely used as a term of endearment for the French infantry of World War I The word carries the sense of the infantryman's typically rustic, agricultural background Beards and bushy moustaches were often worn The poilu was particularly known for his love of pinard, his ration of cheap wine23

Journée du Poilu 25 et 26 décembre 1915 trans "The poilu's holiday, December 25 and 26, 1915" French World War I poster by Adolphe Willette about a poilu's Christmas leave from the front

The image of the dogged, bearded French soldier was widely used in propaganda and war memorials4 The stereotype of the Poilu was of bravery and endurance, but not always of unquestioning obedience At the disastrous Chemin des Dames offensive of 1917 under General Robert Nivelle, they were said to have gone into no man's land making baa'ing noises—a collective bit of gallows humor signaling the idea that they were being sent as lambs to the slaughter Outstanding for its mixture of horror and heroism, this spectacle proved a sobering one As the news of it spread, the French high command soon found itself coping with a widespread mutiny A minor revolution was averted only with the promise of an end to the costly offensive

The last surviving poilu from World War I was Pierre Picault However, French authorities recognised Lazare Ponticelli as the last poilu, as he was the last veteran whose service met the strict official criteria5 Lazare Ponticelli died in Le Kremlin-Bicêtre on 12 March 2008, aged 1106

See alsoedit

  • Grognard
  • Tommy Atkins
  • Doughboy
  • Mehmetçik
  • Digger
  • A Very Long Engagement


  1. ^ Dictionnaire canadien / The Canadian Dictionary, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, 1962
  2. ^ Pierre Nora; David P Jordan 15 August 2009 Rethinking France: Les Lieux de Memoire, Volume 3: Legacies University of Chicago Press p 217 ISBN 978-0-226-59134-6 
  3. ^ Patricia E Prestwich 1988 Drink and the politics of social reform: antialcoholism in France since 1870 Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship p 172 
  4. ^ La représentation du poilu dans les cartes postales in French
  5. ^ "France, derniers poilus de la Guerre 14-18" in French
  6. ^ "Last French World War I Veteran Dies at 110", 13 March 2008 The New York Sun, Retrieved on 2008-03-19

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