Commands By Signals and Whistle

The following information is taken from the Manuel du Chef de Section d'Infanterie ("The Manual of the Infantry Section Leader") dated January 1918 and the Livre du Gradé d'Infanterie ("Infantry NCO's Book") dated October 1915. In addition to the signals listed below, commanders were encouraged to devise their own signals for special circumstances, such as when conducting a raid or patrol, or upon establishing sentry duty.

Commands By Signals

Commands can be given by using signals executed with the hand, sabre or rifle. The direction and speed to be taken can also be indicated. There are both common signals which are universal for all branches of arms and particular signals specific for each. The signal commands are preceded by an 'warning gesture': the 'Attention'. As with vocal commands, there is also a preparatory gesture and an execution gesture. Exceptions to this rule are for the commands of 'Into Line', 'Assembly' and 'Halt', where a single gesture is used.

Warning Gesture

Garde À Vous:

Arm held straight up vertically.

Single Gestures

En Ligne:
("Into Line")

Elevate the arm vertically, then incline it successively several times from the right to the left.


Hold the arm straight up vertically until the assembly is being executed.


Elevate the arm vertically, drop it completely, the hand pointing to the ground.

Preparatory Gestures

En Avant:

Aim the arm in the direction in which to advance.

Au Trot:
("At the Double")

The arm half-extended, the wrist at shoulder-height, raise and lower the hand vertically several times.

Pas de Charge:

Execute the rotation of the arm back and forth several times.

Reprendre le Pas:
("Retake Step")

With the arm held out laterally at shoulder height, slowly move it up and down.

À Droite / À Gauche:
("To the Right / Left")

Raise the arm vertically, maintaining it in the new direction.

Changer le Direction en Marchant / de Pied Ferme:
("Change Direction of the March / of the Facing")

Aim the arm horizontally to the side of the marching wing, then bring it back with a continuous circular movement towards the new direction. Indicate this direction at the desired moment by the execution gesture.

Ouvrir les Intervals:
("Increase the Intervals")

Hold the arm forward horizontally and wave it several times back and forth from right to left.

En Tirailleurs:
("Skirmisher Line)

Maintain the two arms horizontally and spread open.

Execution Gestures


The arm being raised like the gesture for 'Attention', quickly lower the hand to shoulder-height, the arm held horizontally and in the direction of the march. Set out on the march and, if necessary, indicate the direction and speed.

Commands By Whistle

Commands given by whistle consist of short and long blows, or in trills. They are less extensive than commands by signal, in part because bugles and drums were still the primary means of delivering commands audibly.

Garde À Vous:

Long Blow: ___

En Avant:

Short Blow: _


Two Long Blows: ___   ___

Cessez le Feu:
("Cease Fire")

Long Blows Separated by Two Short Blows: ___ _ _ ___ _ _ ___

Apparition d'Avions Ennemis:
("Arrival of Enemy Airplanes")

Series of short blows: _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Rassemblement/Sac au Dos:
("Assembly/Packs On")

When on the march, at the end of a rest break, long blow: ___

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