Selected by Geoff Browell, Senior Archives Services Manager
Two photographs showing Senegalese Tirailleurs: the French mobilised some 200,000 colonial infantry from West Africa throughout the course of the war; their numbers rose sharply after 1916 in order to replace heavy losses on the Western Front. The first force of Senegalese Tirailleurs was raised in 1857: the term translates as ‘skirmisher’. The bravery that many displayed, and growing familiarity and contact between the local French population and colonial infantry, gradually began to undermine racial and other stereotypes that predated the war. Arguably, however, it was not until the French withdrawal from its North African colonies after the Second World War and the work of recent historians that the full contribution of these soldiers could be properly recognised: more than 80,000 may have died in all theatres of operation.
These photographs are from a photograph album belonging to Sir Edward Spears. Appointed liaison officer between British Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French, and General Charles Lanrezac of the French 5 Army at the outbreak of war, he was promoted to become Head of the British Military Mission in Paris in 1917. Spears later pursued a political career but served once again as a liaison officer with the French throughout the early stages of World War Two on behalf of Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, when he was promoted to the rank of Major General.
Further examples of Spears’ First World War photography are available on the Serving Soldier site.
Ref: Spears 10/1