Poilu (ˈpwɑːluː, pwaˈly ) is a warmly informal term for a French World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 infantryman, meaning, literally, hairy one. The term came into popular usage in France during the era of Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

 and his massive citizen armies, though the term grognard (grumbler) was also common. It is still widely used as a term of endearment for the French infantry of World War I. The word carries the sense of the infantryman's typically rustic
Rustic can refer to:*rural*pastoralIn zoology:* Rustic moths, various noctuid moths of subfamilies Hadeninae and Noctuinae, including** The Rustic, * The Rustic , a brush-footed butterfly...

, agricultural background. Beard
A beard is the collection of hair that grows on the chin, cheeks and neck of human beings. Usually, only pubescent or adult males are able to grow beards. However, women with hirsutism may develop a beard...

s and bushy moustache
A moustache is facial hair grown on the outer surface of the upper lip. It may or may not be accompanied by a type of beard, a facial hair style grown and cropped to cover most of the lower half of the face.-Etymology:...

s were often worn.
The image of the dogged, bearded French soldier was widely used in propaganda and war memorials.
The stereotype of the Poilu was of bravery and endurance, but not always of unquestioning obedience. At the disastrous Chemin des Dames
Second Battle of the Aisne
The Second Battle of the Aisne , was the massive main assault of the French military's Nivelle Offensive or Chemin des Dames Offensive in 1917 during World War I....

 offensive of 1917 under General Robert Nivelle
Robert Nivelle
Robert Georges Nivelle was a French artillery officer who served in the Boxer Rebellion, and the First World War. In May 1916, he was given command of the French Third Army in the Battle of Verdun, leading counter-offensives that rolled back the German forces in late 1916...

, they were said to have gone into no man's land
No man's land
No man's land is a term for land that is unoccupied or is under dispute between parties that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. The term was originally used to define a contested territory or a dumping ground for refuse between fiefdoms...

 making baa'ing noises — a collective bit of gallows humor
Gallows humor
Gallows humor , derives from gallows which is a platform with a noose used to execute people by hanging. Gallows humor is the type of humor that still manages to be funny in the face of, and in response to, a perfectly hopeless situation...

 signaling the idea that they were being sent as lambs to the slaughter. 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
French Army Mutinies (1917)
The French Army Mutinies of 1917 took place amongst the French troops on the Western Front in Northern France. They started just after the conclusion of the disastrous Second Battle of the Aisne, the main action in the Nivelle Offensive, and involved, to various degrees, nearly half of the French...

. A minor revolution was averted only with the promise of an end to the costly offensive.

The last surviving poilu from World War I was Pierre Picault
Pierre Picault
Pierre Picault was, at age 109, France's last surviving French veteran of World War I and eldest man. He became the last French World War I veteran following the death of 108-year-old Fernand Goux on 9 November 2008....

. However, French authorities recognised Lazare Ponticelli
Lazare Ponticelli
Lazare Ponticelli , Knight of Vittorio Veneto, was at 110, the last surviving officially recognized veteran of the First World War from France and the last poilu of its trenches to die. Born in Italy, he travelled on his own to France at the age of eight...

 as the last poilu, as he was the last veteran whose service met the strict official criteria. Lazare Ponticelli died in Le Kremlin-Bicêtre on 12 March 2008, aged 110.

See also

  • Tommy Atkins
    Tommy Atkins
    Tommy Atkins is a term for a common soldier in the British Army that was already well established in the 19th century, but is particularly associated with World War I. It can be used as a term of reference, or as a form of address. German soldiers would call out to "Tommy" across no man's land if...

  • Doughboy
    Doughboy is an informal term for an American soldier, especially members of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. The term dates back to the Mexican–American War of 1846–48....

  • Mehmetçik
    Mehmetçik is a general term used affectionately to refer soldiers of the Ottoman Army and Turkish Army. It is the Turkish equivalent of "Tommy Atkins" for the British Army, "Doughboy" or G.I. Joe of the United States Army, "Digger" of the Australian Army and the New Zealand Army or Johnny Reb for...

  • Digger
    Digger (soldier)
    Digger is an Australian and New Zealand military slang term for soldiers from Australia and New Zealand. It originated during World War I.- Origin :...

  • A Very Long Engagement
    A Very Long Engagement
    A Very Long Engagement is a 2004 French romantic war film, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou. It is a fictional tale about a young woman's desperate search for her fiancé who might have been killed on the battle of the Somme, during World War I...

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