Factual Information for Little Soldiers – The Good Son

These notes are intended for teachers or parents wanting to give context when looking at the book with children. They open up the possibility to revisit the pictures from a more historical, educational point of view.

For example:

Page 8 – Home by Christmas?

The governments on both sides expected the war to last no more than a few months and were not prepared to provide millions of men with winter clothes. The soldiers had to spend the harsh winter outdoor in the same uniform they had during summer.

Page 9 – The Refugees

All across Europe, the women and children were left behind when all the men went to war. When the Germans invaded Belgium and the north of France in 1914, the women and children were forced to flee with only what they could carry. They were now refugees, forced to live outside in the snow.

Page 21 – The Call to Arms

It was called “general mobilization”. The act of assembling and readying troops and supplies for war. When the war was declared, local policemen had the task of announcing the news to the villages in the countryside. The tocsins rang their bells in the churches and posters were put up on the walls of all the towns, telling the men they must enlist to fight for their country.

Page 26-27  – Propaganda

Both sides of the conflict used propaganda to shape and influence people’s opinions at home and abroad. Using pamphlets, posters, cartoons and illustrated news carrying drawings or photographs, they told stories designed to make people fear the enemy and believe that the war was a just and good idea.

Page 30-31 – Early airplanes

These were the early form of planes used in the war. Despite being unarmed and only used for reconnaissance, they played a pivotal role by feeding back information for artillery strikes and recording troop movements.

Page 32-35 –  The Red Pants

The bold and colourful uniform of the French soldier reflected a proud and fierce “all-out attack” mentality. The French believed that a rushing, determined infantry charge could overcome even the most deeply entrenched enemy. To stop the advance of the German army, the “red pants” soldiers hurled themselves across open fields toward the enemy. They were simply mowed down by storms of bullets and shrapnel fire.

Page 40-41 – The Zouaves

The Zouaves were part of the French Army of Africa. The North Africans regiments were comprised of tough and ferocious tribesmen from Algeria and Morocco lead by French officers. Brilliant and brave, dressed in their colourful and exotic uniforms, these French Colonial troops had established a terrifying reputation (they were averse to taking prisoners) with the enemy, and Germans moving into a new sector always enquired nervously “Are there any Africans opposite?”.

Page 48 – Pierre and his father

Pierre is looking at a portrait of his father who fought and died during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. France went enthusiastically to war in 1914 to take revenge after the shameful defeat of 1870. Wars always create more wars …

Page 64 – Sending a letter

Pierre does not know if his letter will reach his Mother because the High Command had put postal censorship in place. The authorities did not want the country to know what was really happening on the frontline.

Page 66 – Hungry and thirsty soldiers

Can you imagine millions of men and horses suddenly on the move through the countryside? As they were always moving, it was nearly impossible to get enough basic supplies to them. The shops were closed, the farms destroyed. It was extremely difficult for the soldiers to live off the land. The summer of 1914 was particularly hot. Finding drinking water was an important job!

Page 69 – The Picklehaube

At the beginning of the war, the German helmet was called a “Picklehaube” or spiked helmet. They took the spike off their helmets when they started to live in trenches as it made them too obvious and easy targets for the enemy snipers.

Page 70 – Exhausted soldiers

For weeks French, English and German soldiers walked on average 45 kms per day, marching day and night with rarely more than 4 hours sleep. They carried between 30 and 40 kilos of equipment, they slept on the ground and had very little access to food and water.

Page 77 – Prisoners of War

Being taken prisoner was a way for these German soldiers to have a better chance of survival. They might be sent to work on farms or in factories to replace the French workers who were now all soldiers. They were sure they would not have to go into battle again…

Page 95 – Executions

Between 1914 and 1918 the French Army executed nearly 1,000 of it’s own soldiers. The vast majority were not executed during the mutinies of 1917 but during the first year of the war, between September 1914 and October 1915. Of all the nations involved in the Great War, Australia was the only country not to execute its own men, having only sent voluntary soldiers to the front in Europe.