The Annamites in the Great War

The Annamites in the Great War

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  • Annamese tirailleur in full dress.

    LEROUX Pierre Albert (1890 - 1959)

  • The Annamese soldiers in Paris on the occasion of July 14, 1916.

    LANSIAUX Charles (1855)

  • Annamese in an aviation camp in Pau.

    FRIESZ Othon (1879 - 1949)

To close

Title: Annamese tirailleur in full dress.

Author : LEROUX Pierre Albert (1890 - 1959)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage place: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved website

Picture reference: 77-001609 / AF4991

Annamese tirailleur in full dress.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

To close

Title: The Annamese soldiers in Paris on the occasion of July 14, 1916.

Author : LANSIAUX Charles (1855 -)

Creation date : 1916

Date shown: July 14, 1916

Dimensions: Height 11.5 - Width 16.4

Technique and other indications: Gelatin-silver print on paper.

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

Picture reference: 06-506054 / 30888.386

The Annamese soldiers in Paris on the occasion of July 14, 1916.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

To close

Title: Annamese in an aviation camp in Pau.

Author : FRIESZ Othon (1879 - 1949)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 65 - Width 105.4

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © ADAGP © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

Picture reference: 06-518156 / 1024 T; Eb 834

Annamese in an aviation camp in Pau.

© ADAGP Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

Publication date: July 2009

Historical context

Tonkin and the motherland

After disembarking in Da Nang in 1858, the French founded the colony of Cochinchina in 1865 and established a protectorate over Tonkin in 1884. In four years of war, France thus brought in from Indochina 43,430 Annamite tirailleurs ( center of present-day Vietnam) and Tonkinese (north), mobilized above all in stage battalions responsible for planning and transport; 1,123 died on the battlefield. In addition, 48,981 Indochinese workers were sent to French factories to replace workers who left for the front lines.

Image Analysis

More or less recognizable soldiers

Pierre-Albert Leroux (1890-1959), specialist in military images, drew in the foreground an Annamese rifleman in three-quarter length, in accordance with the pictorial tradition of the representation of weapons and costumes. The artist has chosen to also show French officers in the background and to plant a barracks decor in the background. The colonists wear the uniform of the marine infantry, the body which ensured all the overseas conquests of France, and the famous colonial helmet. Asian skirmishers, like their African counterparts, don a traditional costume, a vector of identity adapted to the harsh climatic conditions. The one in the foreground thus carries a salako, traditional Annamese hat, and sandals; the "full dress" includes overcoat, wide trousers in black material, belt and tie. The young, handsome, sad skirmisher in the foreground hardly looks like an Asian - were it not for his darker skin tone and the shadows cast by his high cheekbones.

Three years after this pose and two years after the crisis of the summer of 1914, part of the Annamese troops engaged on the western front paraded on the Champs-Élysées for the celebrations of July 14, 1916. In the last shot of the immortalizing group photo this event appear Haussmann-style buildings, typical of the capital. In the distance, the curious Parisian crowd tries to make out the thirty or so Annamites wearing alpine hunter's berets and wearing western shoes, in order to better adapt to weather conditions. The rain and the puddles, the faces with furrowed brows, obscured by the lack of sunlight, the strange pout of the Asian flag-bearer, the white officer who leans askew on his saber, produce an atmosphere of mingled tension and melancholy.

Othon Friesz (1879-1949), a significant figure in Fauvism, was assigned to the Topographical Technical Section of Military Aeronautics in Paris until the end of the conflict. In 1915 he had expressed in The war (1915), through firm lines and vivid contrasts, the movement of life and death in modern conflict. Sent to Pau between June and November 1917, he painted Annamese at the aviation camp. Here, apart from the tricolor cockade, the tones are rather dull. The floor occupies three quarters of the composition in quick keys, without details. The tormented sky springs from the canvas under the energetic brushstrokes. The four aircraft drawn on the ground, pointed towards the sky, are moved by technicians seen from behind or from afar, of which there is no indication that they are Asian. Their combinations merge with the metal of the cabins and the cotton of the clouds.


Little recognized fighters

Through the game of plans, Leroux represents the Annamese tirailleur larger than he was supposed to be in reality, and therefore than the French officers, in an illegal position. Relaxed, smoking, their presence is a reminder that they alone exercise command and that the natives remain in the service of the colonist, in an exotic garrison setting. In Pau, the Annamese, lost in the space of the web, thousands of kilometers from home, serve an airfield far from the fighting; they are not pilots, but mechanics, working in the shadows. On the other hand, their use in propaganda has been more visible. On July 14, 1916, barely a few days after the start of the great Franco-British offensive in the Somme, the French were called to celebrate their defenders. At the end of the second year of war, the inevitably reduced military parade included Allied (Russian, British, Belgian) and colonial troops, symbols of unity against the common enemy. The auxiliaries responsible for maintaining colonial order on their soil are thus presented as defenders of the metropolis, as conquerors for the distant homeland. According to racial stereotypes in force in the military, Indochinese, supposedly more cunning than other natives, are phlegmatic and therefore made for the defensive rather than the offensive. Their frail appearance conceals a good resistance to fatigue, a sign of their courage. That said, Asians were used as maneuvers rather than fighters. Their stage battalions were tasked with the strategic, but not very rewarding task of filling the ruts with stones in the road between Bar-le Duc and Verdun, the future "Sacred Way". No Indochinese regiment was created, the management of the units into which they were placed separately knew them little and hesitated to engage them in the front line. But their behavior on the Chemin des Dames, in Alsace and in Salonika denied this lack of confidence. After the war, the sacrifice made aroused in them a desire for recognition and emancipation.

  • aviation
  • colonial history
  • colonial troops
  • War of 14-18


Jean-Jacques BECKER, World War I, Paris, Belin, 2008 (reed.) Gérard-Gilles EPAIN, Indo-chine: A forgotten colonial history, Paris, L'Harmattan, 2007. Jacques FREMEAUX, Les Colonies dans la Grande War: Battles and trials of overseas peoples, Paris, 14-18 editions, 2006. Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004 Collective, Les Troupes coloniales in the Great War, proceedings of the Verdun conference, Economica, 1997.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The Annamites in the Great War"

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