Marne, Yser, Somme, Verdun - The Dawn
What does this image show?This is a French colour lithograph poster celebrating French and Allied victories and the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine, which were lost to the Germans following defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. A French soldier holds the French tricolour on a flag pole, flanked by a woman in traditional Alsace costume, and a woman in Lorraine costume who brings the flag to her lips to kiss it. The flag-bearing young man is immediately identifiable as a French infantry soldier (known as ‘poilu’, the equivalent of the British ‘Tommy’) by his uniform: the ‘Adrian’ steel helmet, the blue wool greatcoat, the canvas bag and the rifle. The laurel branches symbolising victory partially hide the words, ‘Marne, Yser, Somme, Verdun’, on the upper border.
What is the meaning of this image?The poster is undated, but must date from 1917 or more likely 1918. It aims to boost French morale by pointing to the forthcoming victorious peace: ‘the Dawn’, and celebrating French victories in battle. The Battle of the Marne (September 1914) stopped the German advance on Paris; while the Battle of the Yser (October-November 1916) saw Belgian troops and French marines prevent the Germans from reaching the French ports of Calais and Dunkirk. In the Battle of Verdun (February – December 1916) the French managed to hold on to the fortress of Verdun in the East of the country. Verdun is the iconic French battle, equivalent to the Somme for the British. French troops also fought on the Somme sustaining about 340,000 casualties, nearly as many as at Verdun. As the war dragged on, French war propaganda dwelt on the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine from the Germans and used this aim as a reason to justify continued fighting and to boost morale. The artist, Henri Royer, was himself a native of Lorraine.
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- Jo Fox
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- David Welch
Professor David Welch explores nations’ reliance on propaganda in World War One, with a focus on symbols and slogans of nationhood and patriotism.