Wine and the army

Wine and the army

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  • Scenes from Crimea.

  • In Alsace reconquered. Children of Alsace and Lorraine.


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Title: Scenes from Crimea.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 49.2 - Width 39.6

Technique and other indications: Colored lithograph. Pellerin printing house.

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Magesite web

Picture reference: 05-526835 / 53.86.981D

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Mage

To close

Title: In Alsace reconquered. Children of Alsace and Lorraine.

Author : MARECHAUX C. (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 9 - Width 14

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Hubert Josse

Picture reference: 06-518893

In Alsace reconquered. Children of Alsace and Lorraine.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Hubert Josse

Publication date: October 2009

Historical context

The soldiers and the wine of the XIXe century at the end of the First World War

Since the French Revolution, and in particular during the Napoleonic era, it is no longer just the officers, but all the French soldiers in the countryside who regularly drink wine. At first frowned upon, the practice tends to become institutionalized: faced with a fait accompli, the military authorities will gradually accept it, supervise it, regulate it, and finally encourage it during the conflict of 1914-1918. Thus, during the XIXe century, the French soldier, who previously obtained his own wine more or less legally, will be supplied by the army. It is then transported in specially designed tank wagons, then stored in "warehouse stations" located behind the front, and finally transported by truck to the cantonments.

Image Analysis

Wine is associated with the warrior's rest and gives heart to the work

The first image, titled Scenes from the Crimean War, date of the second part of the XIXe century, probably shortly after the end of the conflict in 1856. This is a lithograph on paper depicting in eight images the daily life of troops in combat. It is one of a popular and widely distributed illustration series (as number "21" indicates at top right). The effective and colorful representation is typical of Épinal's imagery: each "scene" is directly accessible, and the message it delivers is meant to be edifying. The last image (bottom right) shows soldiers (here the officers in blue pants, the others in red pants) at rest to obtain (the officer on the left) and consume (the two men on the right) red wine. The presence of two barrels reinforces this evocation.

The second image, In Alsace reconquered. Children of Alsace and Lorraine, is the work of illustrator C. Marechaux. We can assume that it was made during the conflict (but after 1915 because the costume of the horizon blue "soldier" is not that of 1914) or just after. Here too, the representation, with a simple line, is intended for a large audience. The scene takes place in Alsace as the legend says and as the stereotypes of costumes and half-timbered houses support. Leaning on a table, a child dressed as a soldier is served a bottle of wine, "and the best", by a young Alsatian in traditional costume. Two empty bottles are already strewn on the floor, a third is on the table. On the right, another boy, wearing the Alsatian hat. On the left hangs a nurse's jacket. The cursive inscription (perhaps to evoke childish writing) marks the topicality of the conflict: it is the news from the front that is celebrated with this quality wine.


Wine, a symbol of France and a patriotic attribute of the soldier

Both images serve the same function: popularize the army and its men, through simple, immediate and widely disseminated art. It is a question of anchoring in the collective imagination a mythology of the French soldier in action, by exhibiting his distinctive signs. Courageous on the battlefield, the infantryman or the hairy man find solace in the national drink, from which they are inseparable. If the political and military decision to supply the soldiers in this way actually responds to the need to satisfy or even stun them, it is also important to appreciate the symbolic and mobilizing value of this association between the troops and the wine.

Red wine in fact means France: the color of the blood that the soldier is ready to shed, the color of the French flag (and of the military pants of non-ranks before 1915), French product of the French soil, the fruit of a rural tradition and agriculture which still largely defined France in 1914. Daily consumption is both a cultural and an identifying practice shared by all citizens in a real national unity: the soldier defends this homeland of wine and, like all French people, perhaps at the same time as them (the hour of rest), he recognizes and thus affirms his belonging to the nation. The second image is very explicit: signified by the costumes of the young girl and the boy on the side, Alsace is reconquered, and this reconquest is symbolized by the return of wine, that is to say of France. And the young Alsatian who serves the wine while bowing (as one bows to a flag) is the one who is recovered, (re) trained in love for the motherland.

On the other hand, the army shows to all (those of the rear, including future combatants and the families of those who are at the front) that it takes good care of those who defend France by ensuring them. provide wine. Civilians too must participate in the war effort (especially wine growers, by accepting requisition or low prices) to allow France to reward soldiers on a daily basis. The wine, produced, harvested with sweat, art and love at the back, alleviates suffering on the forehead. National solidarity, here again which brings together officers and ordinary soldiers equally (in the first picture they consume the same wine under the same conditions), the rear and the front, the reconquered departments and the other regions of France.

  • army
  • Crimean War
  • War of 14-18
  • wine


Stéphane AUDOIN-ROUZEAU and Jean-Jacques BECKER Encyclopedia of the Great War 1914-1918, Bayard, Paris, 2004 André CORVISIER (dir), Military History of France (3 volumes), PUF, 1992 Gilbert GARRIER, Social History and culture of wine, Bordas Cultures, Paris, 1995.

To cite this article

Alban SUMPF, "Wine and the army"