Analysis of Document 2

1. Here are my Big Questions

  • What aspects of the daily life of tirailleurs does this document reveal?
  • Why does the author seek to portray himself as an ‘expert’ on the tirailleurs sénégalais?
  • In what ways does this document show how the French use ‘knowledge’ in order to administrate the garrison?
  • How can we understand perceptions of the tirailleurs by looking at the tone and purpose of the document?
  • How can we extract the voice of the tirailleurs from this document?

2. Read through the document in detail, highlight key words according to WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY and HOW. What is the tone and purpose of the document?


N° 3032

Commander of the Tirailleurs Sénégalais troops in Algeria to the Army Corp

Notice about the Tirailleurs Sénégalais Battalion from Algeria

Taken from a study of the installation of the troops in Algeria by Commander Guignard

19th June 1919 – Date and details of arrival and camp set-up

13th May: arrival and unloading in Oran. The battalion has been transported in two convoys to Beni-Ounif and Colomb-Bechar on 23rd and 25th May. Each detachment, made up of two companies, was housed, and is still partly housed in large conical tents known as Marabout.

The first few days were spent setting up the camp for the troops. Furthermore, a certain amount of time was needed to gather information about the price and type of materials required. Works on the two posts therefore did not realistically take place until around 15thJune.

Within the organisation of the battalion, the tirailleurs sénégalais have been authorised to be accompanied by one wife and their children. Experience has effectively proven that the Senegalese have willingly expatriated for many years under the condition that they are allowed to return to posts where they can still partly retain their Sudanese way of life. Their employment in Madagascar is undeniable proof of this.

It was necessary to try and reconstruct villages where the tirailleurs and their families could quickly forget their distance from the savannahs of Niger. Therefore it was necessary to adopt a very different type of construction from the approach used with the Algerian troops.

In all of West Africa, from Madagascar to the Congo, every home, according to its size, can house one or two families or couples. Experience seems to have shown that it is better to avoid further increasing the number of inhabitants.

The homes they inhabit are generally round huts with a conical roof. However, in the south-Algerian posts, the materials required were completely lacking. The wood had to come from Tell (Northern Algeria) and was expensive. Moreover, it was not possible to get the straw needed for the roofs. Although the conical roof provides shelter from the wind in any direction, it has nevertheless been decided that rectangular huts will be built to house two couples or families or four single people.

However, for the good of the service, and especially for budgetary reasons, there has been or will be built, larger more elongated huts to accommodate from 30 to 50 unmarried tirailleurs.

All these constructions will be surrounded by a wall, inside of which will be all the amenities that the tirailleurs and their families need, such as kitchens, latrines etc… Wells have been or are in the process of being dug. To the extent that it is possible, once completed they will function using waterwheels or pumps. The huts, once they were built, seemed to offer the tirailleurs, and their families, sufficient comfort and shelter from both the heat and the cold. The walls are in fact forty centimetres thick. This is made of mud, mixed with a large proportion of chopped straw, it does not crack and it creates an insulating layer that keeps the temperature inside the hut less than that outside during summer. During winter, the windows are closed with a wooden shutter that has horizontal hinges. These shutters, like the doors, are made to be simple yet effective, perfectly joined to prevent any cold air getting in.
doc2 map

Map showing the garrisons at Beni-Ounif and Colomb-Bechar (Copyright Kelsey Suggitt, 2013)

3. Use these details to go back and reflect on the Big Questions

  • What aspects of the daily life of tirailleurs does this document reveal?

This document shows that daily life was imposed on the tirailleurs by the French Army. They took their own perceptions about the troops and use these to form the basis of how they saw that the tirailleurs should live within the garrison. However, by introducing women and children to the Army, based on the assumption that they would prevent any potential disruptions or rebellions amongst the troops, they introduced further complications. Firstly by maintaining that only one wife could accompany each soldier raised issues for those who were polygamous. It also does not set an age limit for the children or suggest how they may be educated. Since the document is based on assumptions presented as fact, it does not reveal in depth how the tirailleurs actually lived, but by reading against the grain we can assume that they lived differently to other troops, even other African troops. Moreover it shows the concern that the French had that the tirailleurs may rebel, since the French troops were unlikely to have had such lengths gone to to ensure their daily life was preserved.

  • In what ways does this document show how the French use ‘knowledge’ in order to administrate the garrison?

The use of repetition about the experience the army has with these troops, the use of dates and the tone of the article reveal how the author attempts to present himself as an expert. By extracting certain facts he then proceeds to construct knowledge about the daily life of the tirailleurs. By coupling facts with persuasive and informative language he is able to further create his argument of the importance of preserving the daily life of the tirailleurs. 

  • Why does the author seek to portray himself as an ‘expert’ on the tirailleurs sénégalais?

By portraying himself as an ‘expert’, Guignard is able to show that his argument has credence and his is a voice worth listening to. It enables the French to dictate to the tirailleurs without having to ask questions and operate the army in a way that suits their purposes.

  • How can we understand perceptions of the tirailleurs by looking at the tone and purpose of the document?

This document shows that the French are eager to please the tirailleurs to a certain extent as they believe they will rebel or desert otherwise. They believe that the introduction of women and children will facilitate this and therefore a reproduction of their daily life can be used as a method of control. They also assume that many tirailleurs grouped together will lead to in-fighting or rebellion, thus reflecting the general assumptions that were made during this period in France. This ‘exoticism’ was reflected in the inter-war period at the Paris Colonial Exposition in 1931.

  • How can we extract the voice of the tirailleurs from this document?

This can be done in various parts of the text, if we look at it from a different angle. For example, the French are seeking to replicate the homelife of the tirailleurs, this suggests that there is a purpose behind it, and actually a fear of what may happen if they don’t provide the soldiers with comfort. The fact that the French fear uprisings and rebellion and are eager to appease suggests that a certain amount of control lay in the tirailleurs’ hands. This links to the text in Document 1 where the tirailleurs may have lobbyed their Major, showing there was a certain amount of freedom for the soldiers to dictate their living conditions thanks to the perceptions of the French.

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