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Poilu

From Academic Kids

Poilu is a warmly informal term for a French infantryman, meaning, literally, hairy one. The term came into popular usage in France during the era of Napoleon Bonaparte and his massive citizen armies. It was still widely used as a term of endearment for the French infantry of World War I.

The word carries the twin sense of the infantryman's typically rustic, agricultural background, and the suggestion of Gallic manliness. Beards and bushy moustaches were often worn.

Poilus were renowned for their bravery, doggedness, and endurance. However, they were not passive followers of orders. At the disastrous Chemin des Dames offensive of 1917 under General Robert Nivelle, they were said to have gone into no man's land baa'ing in black self-parody, acting like the lambs to the slaughter their commanders apparently took them for. Outstanding for its mixture of horror and heroism, this spectacle proved a sobering one. As the news of it spread, the French high command soon found itself coping with a widespread mutiny. A minor revolution was only averted with the promise of an end to such costly offensives.

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