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Alexandre: 1918

Alexandre: 1918

France. April 1918. "The horrible disfigured man of war can not cool the warmth of the friendship of his old comrade for Alexandre the blind mutile, but the Red Cross can not leave him without further aid." 5x7 glass negative from the American National Red Cross Photograph Collection, Library of Congress. View full size.


Some injuries are invisible

My grandfather (Corporal, 36th Infantry Division, 131st MG Battalion) survived, physically unscathed, during his stint in France (1917-1919) except for a minor run-in with mustard gas. Unfortunately, not the same could be said of his mental well-being after the war. But compared to this gentleman, he was lucky beyond measure.


Without a name and service records, it is impossible to know whether Alexandre's medals are individual or unit awards. As noelani identified, the medal in the middle is the Croix de Guerre avec Palme (War Cross with Palm), which was awarded to an individual who had been mentioned in dispatches at the army level. To be mentioned in dispatches meant that your name and a description of your gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy appeared in an official report written by a superior officer. How superior of an officer was indicated by the pen attached to the ribbon—a bronze star for the regiment or brigade level, a silver star for the division level, a silver gilt star for the corps level, and a bronze palm for those who had been mentioned at the army level. A silver palm replaced five bronze ones. However, when an entire unit, such as a regiment or battalion was mentioned in dispatches, it was always at the army level, so the unit Croix de Guerre was always awarded with the palm.

The medal to the left is the Médaille Militaire (Military Medal), which is awarded to a non-officer/NCO enlisted man (or unit) for meritorious service and acts of bravery in action against the enemy. At the time it was the highest strictly military award in the nation, and the second highest overall after the Légion d'honneur, which is a civil and military order. The ribbon of Alexandre's Médaille Militaire has an unofficial miniature fourragère attached, which signifies that he (or his unit if this was a unit award) was recorded as distinguishing himself/themselves more than once in the Orders of the Army—the fancy way of saying mentioned in dispatches—something we already know from the Croix de Guerre. The color of the fourragère, which is unknowable here, would indicate how many times he/they were mentioned. Some 230,000 Médaille Militaire were awarded during WWI.

The undress ribbon on the right is for the Médaille des Blessés de Guerre (Medal for the War Wounded). The red enamel star was added for a second award, which means that he was wounded on two separate occasions.

The French army had dropped both the Grenadier and the Fusilier designations long before the start of the war. The flaming grenade buttons were standard for infantry uniforms.

Croix De Guerre with Palm

The facial mutilation that took place during this war is always a terrible thing to see, even in black and white! I wish there was more information about Alexandre. He has the Croix De Guerre with Palm, and his buttons indicate that he was a Fusilier. I am still trying to find out what the other medal he is wearing might be, to provide just a tiny bit more information about his life.

A grenadier

The injured man appears to be a French Grenadier, judging from the buttons on his tunic. A grievous injury and a life terribly wasted, yet one can't help but be warmed by the humanity and compassion on display in the photo.

Without a doubt

one of the saddest things I've seen on Shorpy.

I have seen such a thing before

But in that case, it was a man who had his face blown off by shock from a high-tension line he was working on. That man, in the end, was the second person ever to receive a full-face transplant.

Beautiful and terrible

Never again.

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