Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Colonial French in Morocco Photos: Part 1 Native Troops

I thought I'd begin introducing the Colonial French project by sharing some of the Postcard photographic views that I have been acquiring as part of the background.
Having got bitten by the collecting bug whilst looking around for images of original colour schemes for Pre-Dreadnought shipping, I have in a similar way started to gather original
postcard views of the French in Morocco between 1907 to 1914 or so, mining a rich seam of contemporary postcards that acted almost as reportage at the time, lionising the efforts of the Colonisers as they sought to devour a further slice of North Africa.

Just a note, similar to the Pre-Dread pics seen elsewhere on the Blog, about copyright; Most of these views were taken a century or so ago, and in some cases it would be difficult to assert the rights of the original publishers or photographers - it is not my intention, however, to subvert or ignore such rights by posting them here.
I would ask anyone who wishes to view them to use the images for private research only, and not seek to disseminate them for commercial purposes, etc - I will try and give the photographer or publisher's information where possible - although I own the postcards, I in no way own the images themselves....

So, at the top, we see a long line of Tirailleurs Algeriens in this postcard view dated 1910, trudging across the desert at Taghit - a close inspection will reveal some French officers on foot and on horses in the middle distance in summer dress.
The Tirailleurs, light infantry by name, but effectively used as regular Native infantry by the Armee d'Afrique, were in battalion strength in Morocco, but seem to have been mainly deployed in detachments to support other units.
Their distinctive Zouave-like uniform consisted of a red 'Chechia': a low, fez-like hat with a yellow tassel, often wound around with a white turban at the base. The jacket originally had been a short waist length pale sky blue one, but by 1907 I have seen indications that khaki ones were in use, (the French themselves adopted this gradually from 1903) although it can be difficult to tell from B&W photos - certainly summer uniforms of white cotton were also to be seen, the trousers surmounted by a red wound cummerbund or sash.

Below we have a view of a Mountain Artillery Column at M'Kirt, probably from a later period, perhaps 1914 or so - a mixture of dress is apparent, particularly in the single file of figures at the rear, and note the French officer mounted on the white horse at the front, probably wearing the puttees that had begun to appear in the French army as 'patrol dress' from about 1905:

Next up, a platoon moves off at Djebel-Nser, a view by Maillet photo of Casablanca. I think it is likely these are Tirailleurs Senegalais, similar to their Algerian counterparts, but with a characteristically dark blue jacket and lighter blue trousers, that again by 1910 or so would have seen khaki bottoms appearing. It's interesting to note the figures amidst the file likely wearing the M1890 helmet, made in a khaki material:

Moving swiftly along, we have an image by Boussuge of Casablanca of a parade of 'Police Infantry' from 1909, no doubt a unit that came about as part of the efforts of the French Military Mission to create more modern and viable forces to support their candidate as sultan, rather than the traditional mob of supporters that formed the 'Askar' - more a sort of rampaging feudal militia than an army. The native officer out front wears Zouave-like garb, whilst the French military instructor can be glimpsed at left:

Arriving at Casablanca, a unit of Tirailleurs Senegalais and their officers, in a card view dated 1907, again by Boussouge. The Senegalais were officially part of the Troupes de la Marine, so overseen by the Ministry de la Marine, as most Colonial French forces were, so were not part of the Armee d'Afrique - I suppose that's why their original uniforms were the dark blue seen here:

Their uniforms, however, began to change over to khaki in the early part of the twentieth century, and that is what we see here in another view of a similar unit - interesting to note that the officers seem to have retained the blue uniform - or perhaps this is merely for a dress parade - their helmets are the white rather than the khaki here:

Next up, we have a unit of Moroccan Goumiers, native cavalry raised to support the French forces, more in the sense of an irregular gendarmerie than an official military unit, but they were accompanied by a cadre of French officers and NCOs.
This view is by Levy & Neurdein Reunis of Paris, and is interesting in that whilst most sources state that the Goums were mostly without uniform, wearing their own native dress, it appears that as time went on, uniforms were introduced to some - although this photo might date from a later period, perhaps just post WWI; certainly they have at least retained the traditional camel hair cloak, or 'haik':

Finally, another unit of locally raised cavalry, this time some Spahis Algeriens, which were a more formal military force of which there were four regiments of approximately 500 men each. They wore a rather 'Arabian Nights' uniform of bright red jacket over pale blue trousers and a red sash, topped off by a bright red, white-lined cloak, although this was no doubt somewhat changed in the field when they took on a more rough and ready appearance.
This can be seen here in this view, again by Boussuge - they are also apparently defeating less formidable foes than the militant Moroccans, namely a herd of sheep - although the drawn sword of the officer points to that fact that they can also be slippery customers - his dress is interesting - obviously a form of patrol uniform made up of locally obtained clothing:

These units should give great flavour to any army of the period, and I'm looking to use the Spahis and Tirailleurs from Pendraken's Franco-Prussan War range to depict them - there's certainly plenty to contemplate as to exactly what shape this will all take, so stay tuned for more to come as the project develops....

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