Individual and Unit Conduct Policies
Both individual and unit conduct must always be considered within the context of the French army and its experience in the Great War. As we are representing real soldiers, who fought a real war, the behavior of all unit members is expected to be respectful to their memories.
You're In the Army Now
A basic military bearing will be maintained within the unit at all times when in the field. Keeping in mind that we are only reenactors portraying soldiers of the past, we must still behave like real soldiers. Of course, the reenacting environment will always be more lax than the reality. While unit members share a strong sense of comradery both on and off the field, obedience to commands and assignments is expected of everyone. At times, this may mean carrying out a task that seems mundane or trivial. Nonetheless, we are portraying a military unit and must operate as such. Unit cohesion is essential and we achieve this only when everyone works together. All unit members are expected to do their fair share of work, although the type of labor assigned may vary from person to person. Yet take heart, it's not all blood, sweat and tears. There is plenty of time for fun as well, especially when wine is mixed into the equation.
The level of military formalities and discipline will vary depending on respective circumstances. In the front lines, formalities have traditionally been more relaxed. The same is not true for the rear areas. Additionally, morale and discipline fluctuated throughout the war. Thus, a 1914 event will feel much different than a 1917 one. Unit members should always bear such factors in mind when approaching their impressions.
Assuming the mentalité of the ordinary French soldier is a must. This generally proves very challenging to the average American. The most important aspect to remember when approaching this war is that the French saw it as one common experience of suffering which nonetheless had to be undergone for the benefit of the nation and for civilization on a whole. Excepting the initial outbursts of patriotism in 1914, most poilus didn't fight for such politically high-minded aims as the salvation of Alsace-Lorraine. There was, however, an overriding sense of duty; that there was a job that had to be done. The Germans were in France and they had to be pushed out. Moreover, they truly believed that this would be the last war for all time. It was so cataclysmic, so horrible, so trying that surely none other could follow. It was a war fought to end war itself. And so, the hardships, loss and suffering were endured with grim acceptance.
And set firm within French national consciousness was the notion that this was a war for the salvation of civilization, for reason and justice. These themes were generated by the French people themselves, independent of the propaganda machines that catered to them. Yet for the combatants at the front, even such weighty notions as these were not sufficient to "hold on" against the horrors of the war for the average poilu. On the day-to-day level, the poilu fought for the same reasons as every modern soldier does. He fought for the man to the right and the left of him. And he fought simply out of habit. He fought because he couldn't do otherwise. Resigned to his grim fate, he carved his life out of misery with little concern for the political causes and aims of the war. Indeed, indifference became a state of mind for most poilus. Yet they also had a strong sense of pride; that the sacrifices would ultimately be justified by the peace that would surely follow. By fighting this war, future generations would never again experience the greatest manifestation of man's evil.
All unit members regardless of experience or rank are expected to read up on the Great War and the French army of 14-18. In order to perfect our impressions, a deeper understanding must be had by everyone. This means a firm grasp over who it is we are portraying. After all, our impressions as individuals and as unit are continually growing and evolving. The learning process never stops; we must all keep reading and researching.
Choose a Nom de Guerre
All unit members are required to choose a French nom de guerre (alias) to use at events, including a first and last name (a confirmation name is also optional but recommended). Unit members are encouraged to choose a last name from the rolls of those who actually served in the le Quinze-Un ("One-Fifty-One"). A listing of those killed in the ranks of the 151e can be found here. Otherwise, scroll through the pages of the Campaign History of the 151 RI starting here and look through the names of the casualties (highlighted in gray).
~25%: Meuse and Meurthe-et-Moselle (i.e., Lorraine)
~25%: Pas-de-Calais and Nord
~50%: Aisne and Somme (i.e., Picardy), and Paris (18th, 19th, and 20th Arrondissements)
As the war progressed and the French army's policy of distributing troops recruited from the same region into different units, the composition of the regiment would change, eventually drawing men from nearly every department of France. Men hailing from Champagne in the north to Provence in the south, from Brittany in the west to Burgundy in the east, filled the ranks of le Quinze-Un. That said, large portions of the men who served in the regiment, fully 70%, were from the northern and eastern departments. Of these, 40% were from areas either occupied by Germany forces or other otherwise directly on the front lines.
For choosing a first name, there are many options. Again, you can choose a name appearing in the regimental rolls or which appeared in your surname search. Alternately, you can visit the following site: http://meilleursprenoms.com. This lists the top 200 most popular first names in France in the year 1900. By clicking on a name in the list, you can see its popularity over a century. You can also search by first names and see name trends throughout modern French history at Prenoms.com (scroll down and type in the field contained in the box "Tout sur votre Prénom"). Finally, there is the "Memoire des Hommes" site, which is operated by the French Ministry of Defense. It is a database of the death certificates of most French soldiers killed in the war.Note: If you intend to further develop a background to your persona for living-history purposes, be conscious of family name origins and class. France was still highly regionalized at the time of the war and many names tended to center around certain geographic areas. Use the family name lookup feature on the genealogie.com site as described above to determine this. Also note that certain family names were aristocratic and should generally be avoided.
All unit members are highly encouraged to learn some basic French. The language barrier will always plague us as native English-speakers. Ideally though a basic proficiency should eventually be had by all unit members. The first place to begin is to obtain a French-English dictionary. Military glossaries of the French army and poilu slang can be found on the Links page. "La Pilule Amère" is another convenient source for these terms. Compiled lists of these are usually sent out to all unit members in advance of an event. At first it may seem incongruous using only fragments of French while speaking normally in English, but a language is learned gradually--acclimate yourself in such a way. Even if one knows the requisite "bonjour" and "comment allez-vous", this is at least a start. Also, unit members are reminded to always substitute in the French word when referring to items of their kit, instead of using the English term. French terms for gear and uniforms can be found in the various pages of the Gear section.
It should go without saying that in our attempts to replicate life in the Great War with exacting detail, modern anachronisms must, as a rule, be avoided as much as possible. The use of cell phones in active living-history areas during an event is absolutely forbidden. If it is necessary for a unit member to call or text during an event, that person should remove himself from active living-history areas to find a private place that is out of sight. Even then, unless there is an emergency, use should be kept to a minimum. Modern eyeware or sunglasses are not permitted to be worn at events. If eyeware is required to be worn by a unit member, it must be or resemble period-correct spectacles. If hearing protection is required to be worn, it must be as subdued as possible in appearance and form. While modern bedding (mattressing, sleeping bag, pillow) is generally to be avoided, if for health reasons it is required, every attempt must be made to hide the items from sight and/or use of the item desist straight away. Finally, it is the responsibility of every member to keep the bunker at Newville anachronistic-free. Plastic items such as grocery bags or plastic food wrap, styrofoam, or any other modern food packaging must be hidden from sight before the start of the event.