Friday, February 4, 2022


Eugène Bachelot sat in the dank basement and prayed, he prayed as he had never prayed before. Surely this was some mistake, he barely remembered this woman they claimed he had raped. He had been so drunk that he didn't even remember returning to his bivouac.

He did remember when the gendarmes came and arrested him, though he couldn't remember what they had told him. They had brought him to regimental headquarters where he had been confronted with the Belgian woman who they said he had raped.

She had given him a single glance, nodded at the colonel, then said, "C'est lui.¹"

The colonel had gestured for the gendarmes to escort the woman out of the room. When she had gone, he walked over to the table and the single chair which occupied the room and sat down. No doubt the army had cleared the room so that the colonel could use it as an office. It was in a large farmhouse, the family which owned it still lived in the upper floors but the remainder had been taken over for the regimental headquarters.

The colonel looked at the papers upon the desk and sighed. Looking up he addressed Bachelot, "Soldat Bachelot, it has been decided to make an example of you. You have been accused of raping a Belgian woman and of being absent without leave from your unit. The woman you raped has testified that it was indeed you who raped her, your sergeant has testified that you were not present in your bivouac last night. These facts lead me to believe that you are indeed guilty of these crimes."

Bachelot began to protest his innocence when the colonel interrupted him.

"Do you have any witnesses that could testify to your whereabouts on the night in question?"

Bachelot thought for a moment, he had snuck away by himself that night. None of his squad mates were the sort that would be interested in visiting a Belgian brothel, so went by himself. He had no one who could say he was elsewhere.

"I deny these charges mon colonel. I am innocent!"

"Can you explain how this woman came to be in possession of half of your identity disk?²"

That startled Bachelot, he reached for his identity disk, one of the gendarmes moved to stop him, but the colonel nodded to let Bachelot continue. When he reached under his tunic, Bachelot felt the jagged edge of his broken identity disk, at that point he knew that there was nothing he could say in his own defense.

"Care to show us the disk Soldat?" the colonel asked.

Sheepishly, Bachelot pulled the broken disk from under his tunic and revealed to everyone in the room that half of the disk was missing. The look on his colonel's face froze the blood in his veins.

"Soldat Eugène Marie Charles Bachelot, army serial number 7566112, I hereby find you guilty of  the charge of absence without leave and the charge of rape. In order to enforce good order and discipline in the ranks, I hereby sentence you to death by firing squad. Sentence to be carried out tomorrow morning at dawn. Do you have anything to say?" the colonel's look suggested that Bachelot should remain silent.

"I protest mon colonel, this is unfair and ..."

"Remove the prisoner!"

Bachelot remembered all of that, he had thought about it the entire night. Now, as the eastern sky began to lighten, it was only moments until they would come to take him to the place where he would be judicially murdered. Bachelot could not believe this, the woman was a prostitute, it's not like he had raped a housewife or a schoolgirl.

It all seemed like such a great injustice.

The day had dawned foggy and damp. Guillaume was marching to the execution ground with the other members of his squad and he was terrified of dropping his rifle, his hands were so sweaty from nerves.

"Squad HALT!" Sergeant Brasseur barked.

"Right FACE!"

Pivoting, Guillaume caught sight of Bachelot, he had already been tied to a post some twenty meters away. He was blindfolded and there was a piece of paper pinned to the breast of his tunic, which had been shorn of all badges and buttons.

Captain François Kléber marched out from one side of where the squad was positioned. He stopped halfway between the squad and the condemned man. Guillaume was trembling, he wondered that the sergeant hadn't noticed, but he had not. He was dimly aware that the captain was reading out the charges and that the general commanding the division had confirmed the sentence.

Completing his task, the captain pivoted to return to his original position. Then he commanded, in his best parade ground voice, "Lieutenant, carry out the sentence of the court!"

Lieutenant Mathis Choquet, Guillaume's platoon leader, drew his sword and lifted it up.

"SQUAD! Present!"

Ten rifles came up.


Ten rifles pointed at the condemned man's breast.

Guillaume had been told that one rifle of the ten had been loaded with a blank round, so that everyone could console themselves that perhaps they had not killed their comrade. When young Trouvé had asked Sergeant Brasseur if that was true, the sergeant had scoffed.

"You would know if you had the blank round, boy, your rifle wouldn't kick as much. But that's just an old army story, it's nonsense I tell you. Every one of those ten rifles has a live round. Trust me."

Bachelot was breathing heavily, he couldn't seem to take in enough air. He had always thought of himself as a very tough man. Now he knew that he was not. He sobbed in embarrassment as he soiled his trousers. He wanted to live, he wanted to live.

At the edge of his consciousness he heard the command ...


Ten muzzles spouted flame, ten rifles kicked back into ten shoulders.


As the squad snapped back into the position of attention, rifles grounded by their sides, Guillaume tried not to look, but he couldn't help himself.

Still tied to the post, but slumped over like a broken doll, Bachelot sagged against the ropes binding him to the post. Blood spattered his tunic, which looked as if it had been torn by a wild beast.

Guillaume swallowed hard as the lieutenant marched to the post, his service revolver in hand. In one smooth motion, the lieutenant's pistol barrel aligned itself with Bachelot's head. In the very next instant there was a sharp report and Bachelot's head snapped to one side.

It was a wasted bullet, Bachelot had died in the volley from the firing squad. But orders and tradition called for the coup de grâce. So the lieutenant did his duty.

It was something that every man of the squad would remember for the rest of their lives.

All of he men in the squad got very drunk that night. Sergeant Brasseur supplied the drink. He knew what the men were experiencing, he had experienced the same feelings when he had served in a firing squad during the Mutiny of 1917³ as a very young private.

It was necessary.

Pour encourager les autres ...

¹ That is him.
² The French Army had identity disks designed to be broken in half in the event of the soldier being killed in action. One half would be left on the body. The Germans used a similar system as do other countries, even today.
³ In 1917 the French Army had refused to attack when ordered forward, read more here. The movie Paths of Glory covers the event very well, a superb film, I highly recommend it.


  1. Sarge, this completely has the ring of experience and truth in it. It either amazes me or worries me that you can write this so vividly, either from research - or experience.

    (And this is why, I tell my younger self, overindulging in alcohol never ends up going well. Never.)

    1. Overindulging in alcohol, seen it, done it, look back and wonder how I survived. A number didn't.

    2. Dunno bout you Sarge, I attribute my survival to a Guardian Angel. There's no other explanation.

  2. While not on the order of decimation Bachelot did get to experience the consequences of his actions.

    1. The lesson was for the rest of the French Army.

    2. And for the civilian population. "We take care of our problems."

  3. Good order and discipline...A reminder to the others...

    1. Something enforceable in the military, virtually unheard of in the civilian world, unless it comes from within.

    2. That's the difference between civil and military law. Civilian crimes are for "Breaches of the Peace; military crimes are prejudicial to Good Order and Disipline. One can hardly hold breaching of the Peace to organizations that must do so.
      Boat Guy

    3. Blow things up and kill people, doesn't get more "breaching of the Peace" than that.

  4. I guess military non-judicial punishment proceedings are pretty much the same world wide. That part was very familiar, although of course, I never was involved in any with a death sentence. Our UCMS has a rather mild list of options for the NJP/Captain's Mast level of military justice.

    1. Well, within our military yes. It wasn't far-fetched for the French to issue an edict indicating that blood was needed. 1917 saw men innocent of any real crime put to death to "encourage the others." In this incident, the higher ups ordered that someone must pay, now, not later, in order to keep peaceful relations with the Belgians. Politics dictated the sentence with no trial, not justice.

      Was Bachelot a scumbag? Yes he was. A petty thug from the Parisian slums who was drafted and one thing led to another. Did he deserve his fate? Who knows, that's for God to decide.

  5. Someone once said "Military justice is to civilian justice as military music is to civilian music."

    But the French? As you said, they did tend to do things on a variable scale. Much to the detriment of their troops. Kind of like what we're seeing in the US today.

    1. The failures of 1940 can be put squarely on the backs of the French politicians, not the Army.

  6. All considerations as to how just or not the punishment may have been being set aside, to be ordered to shoot an unarmed, restrained man must necessarily be a heavy burden on any reasonable person's soul. Nothing at all the same as shooting at people who are also shooting at you. Way too much time for contemplation. I have heard of a few cases where the man was not killed by that first volley, nobody wanting to be the one who took the killing shot. Hence the need for the ritual coup de grace.

    1. I cannot begin to imagine the damage to one's soul that must be, hard, very hard.

  7. Don't do the crime, if you can't do the time!


    1. True. But sometimes youth doesn't take into account that life has consequences, sometimes just for yourself, sometimes for those around you as well. The latter is something we're seeing in our time. People doing whatever the Hell they feel like with no regard to the consequences. The chickens are now coming home to roost. /rant

    2. Sarge, one wonders what those acting that way now will feel like in 30 years. I would like to believe that even five years out, a great many people are going to realize with shame what they enabled. Then again, I have been accused of being an idealist.

    3. I often wonder that.

      Nothing wrong with being an idealist, though you must get disappointed a lot.

  8. (Don McCollor)...There is also onus on the unit of the perpetrator. And higher officers have long memories. Future things for them may not be pleasant...

    1. They do have long memories.

      During the Napoleonic Wars there was a French regiment which retreated in a way which displeased the Emperor. At the next battle he held them in place and let them take lots of punishment from enemy fire, so the story goes. Though it may be apocryphal, it does address your point.

  9. (Don McCollor)..And from Kipling "The Drums of the Fore and Aft"...

    1. I haven't read that, a glance tells me that I should.

  10. (Don McCollor)...And more appropriate Kipling's "Danny Deever"...

  11. The British general Edward Spears, who served as liason to the French Army in both 1914-1918 and in 1940, told of a time during the First War when he was in the company of a French general. A squard marched past with a man who was being led to execution, apparently for desertion. The general stopped the party and spoke to the man: he told him that his death would inspire others to avoid making the same mistake, that he was in fact dying for France just as were those killed in actual combat.

  12. Test - blogger is giving me fits.

  13. Couple typos -
    "All of he men in the squad got very drunk that night."

    "so went by himself."

    Blogger has been giving me fits lately. It doesn't like my iPhone.

    I'll have to catch up!


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