Category Archives: History

Le Diable Noir

‘Le Diable Noir’ by Gaston De Lille, published by the author (Hénin-Liétard, sd).

The march ‘Le Diable Noir’ is a tribute to a French heavy artillery regiment during WW1. German soldiers allegedly nicknamed French gunners ‘Diables Noirs’, or Black Devils, referring to the colour of their uniform and also to the gunpowder that blackened their faces.

Thanks to Gaston Delille’s great-grandchild (active on Reddit as balfringRetro) we can listen to a recording of Le Diable Noir.

On this week’s sheet music cover we see a black devil sitting atop a red bomb, leering through his binoculars at a ruined city. The projectile has a childish steering wheel. The two telltale circular marks on the grenade let us guess it is a naive drawing of a French 400 mm artillery shell. These bomb types were fired from a railway gun, a large artillery piece or Howitzer, mounted on a specially designed railway wagon. They were the French answer to the German Big Bertha.

The 400 mm railway gun was first put into service during the battle at Verdun. The thing was so heavy and clumsy that it took two days to set it up.

Verdun! on ne passe pas‘ by René Mercier, Jack Cazol & Eugène Joullot, published by E. Joullot (Paris, sd) and illustrated by L. Prevel

The person responsible for manufacturing the ‘Obus 400‘ bomb was Albert Thomas. He was the French minister of Armaments during WW1. A socialist and pacifist, he had cooperated with Jaurès, the leader of the French Socialist Party who was murdered in 1914. In this photo collage we see him proudly and lovingly presenting his 1.000 kg bomb.

‘J’ai Vu’, April 1916. Photo Collage by Hermann.

When the war broke out in August 1914, the French socialists had swallowed their anti-war resolutions to patriotically join the defence of their country. The left wing agreed to a political truce, the Union Sacrée, promising not to oppose the government during the war. Albert Thomas was the epitome of this Sacred Union: the pacifist had become a top manufacturer of weapons by modernising France’s munitions production. He retrieved half a million men already serving with the army, also recruited prisoners of war, refugees and women and put all these people to work to massively make ammunition. At the same time he tried to improve the working conditions in the arms industry, although with little immediate success. In 1917 the French Socialist Party left the Union Sacrée, and Albert Thomas resigned as minister of Armaments. His fight to optimise the war efforts had made him an outsider in his own party, where pacifism was again de rigueur.

What better way to finish this post than with the catching tune of ‘Ancient Combattant’, an ironic anti-war song by the Congolese Casimir Zoba: La bombe ce n’est pas bon, ce n’est pas bon: le diable noir cadavéré!

Marquer le pas, et 1, 2
Ancien combattant
Mundasukiri

Tu ne sais pas que moi je suis ancien combattant
Moi je suis ancien combattant,
J’ai fait la guerre mondiaux
Dans la guerre mondiaux,
Il n’y a pas de camarade oui
Dans la guerre mondiaux,
Il n’y a pas de pitié mon ami
J’ai tué Français,
J’ai tué Allemand
J’ai tué Anglais,
Moi j’ai tué Tché-co-slo-vaque
Marquer le pas, 1, 2
Ancien combattant
Mundasukiri

La guerre mondiaux
Ce n’est pas beau, ce n’est pas beau

Toboggan: sliding into happiness

‘Toboggan-Marche’ by Michel Langlois, published by Loret & Freitag (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Georges Morinet.

This cover for the Toboggan Marche depicts a water chute, a still popular amusement park ride. The funfair boat races down the chute tower and hits the water with a mighty splash. Here the imagination of Georges Morinet, an illustrator and photographer of Nantes, runs wild, curiously morphing one of the big waves into a triumphant naked woman. The round front makes the boat skip over the water, bouncing up and down, soaking and thrilling the passengers. What a wet frisson!

A post card of the Water Toboggan at the Nantes World Fair, 1904.

This and other mechanised rides were imported from the United States to European fairs and exhibitions. In this case it was for the 1904 World Fair in Nantes, where the ride was called a Water Toboggan (toboggan is the French word for slide). At that time the Shooting the Chutes as it was known in America was already a decade old.

‘Plan général de l’Exposition universelle d’Anvers’, 1894. Source: Gallica.fr

The map of the 1894 Antwerp World Fair shows us that —already at the end of the 19th century— visitors enjoyed a water attraction in Belgium. It was Captain Paul Boyton’s American company which provided the entire ride, boxed and shipped.

Boyton’s Water Show, Exposition Universelle, Antwerp, 1894. (source: pinterest)

Now this Captain Paul Boyton was a very entertaining person. In 1894 he opened the first permanent mechanised amusement park in Chicago. But prior to that he swam up and down rivers across America and Europe in a rubber immersion suit, that he himself did not invent.

Captain Paul Boyton in his immersion suit.

It was inventor Clarke Merriman who in 1872 had created the first-ever rubber survival suit to rescue passengers should their vessel capsize in cold water.

Merriman’s patent for a survival suit, 1872. Source: google patents.

Captain Boyton took pride in testing the inflatable suit: “I float on my back, and propel my body feet foremost with a double-bladed paddle at the rate of a hundred strokes per minute”.  Wearing only the rubber suit as a form of transportation he embarked on amazing and dangerous expeditions…

Captain Boyton’s trip, from ‘Harpers Weekly’, 1875

He also crossed the Channel from England to France with a canvas sail fixed to his left boot while leisurely smoking a cigar. It took him 23 hours and 30 minutes and three meals of beef sandwiches with a nice cup of strong green tea.

Captain Boyton on the wave‘ by Siragusa, published by Brinkerhof (New York, 1879) and illustrated by R. Teller. source:  Library of Congress
For his long travels along rivers (some of them took him 8 days) he had a line attached to his belt carrying the following items: “a couple of bottles of ginger ale, ten days provisions, cigars, quinine and other emergency medications such as brandy, etc., frying pan, coffee, kettle, spoon, knife and fork. A cup, a spirit stove, pen and ink, notebook, signal rockets, chronometer, barometer, thermometer, revolver, charts, maps, hatchet, ammunition, including a patch cloth and rubber cement.”
The advertising card hereunder lists some of the extraordinary uses for the life-saving immersion suit, promoted by Captain Boyton all over the world.
Captain Paul Boyton on an advertising trade card.

For a while Captain Boyton starred in P. T. Barnum’s Travelling Circus, before starting to manufacture his aquatic attractions. The most successful one was unmistakably the Shooting the Chutes or Water Toboggan as it became known in Europe.

Night  view of the Shooting the Shute, manufactured by The Paul Boyton Co, 1896. New York: Miner H.C. Litho. Co. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

And we all know now that the water toboggan became a permanent success, bringing mankind rapturous delight!

Toboggan Whirls‘ by Pietro Paperini, published by Zanibon (Padova, sd) and illustrated by Guaiat.

Der Dienstmann: a Jack of all trades

‘Dienstmann nr. 10’ by Rudolf Mälzer, published by Otto Teich (Leipzig, sd). Illustrator unknown.

A Dienstmann or a porter in Germany and Austria, was a freelance worker, state-licensed and officially registered. We’re talking 1830 until WW2. The Dienstmann wore an official uniform with his licence number on his cap or on a medallion. Often, the street corner was his ‘office’.

Tired porter on Radetzkyplatz, Vienna, around 1905-1914, photographed by Emil Mayer, source: wikimedia

The Dienstmann would not only carry luggage. He could also be hired for errands or be engaged as a messenger. Some were equipped with writing props enabling a client on the street to write a few lines and then have the Dienstmann deliver the note.

Sometimes a Dienstmann was hired for small domestic duties or as a temporary replacement for an indisposed servant. The man could also obtain your theatre or concert tickets, or even help you home after a night out, as the cover below suggests.

‘Ich hab’ mir für Grinzing ein’n Dienstmann engagiert…’ by Bruno Uher, published by Edition Bristol (Wien, 1936) and illustrated by H. Woyty-Wimmer.

The noticeable figure of the Dienstmann was frequently used for stage or film. We can see this in the 1952 comedy of errors, ‘Hallo Dienstmann’ wherein two of these characters sing a comical duet. At that time, the last Dienstmann had already disappeared from the streets. The title song of the film, played by two of Austria’s leading actors, became one of the big hits of the fifties in Austria.

Sing along in your best German. Take the flowers to Amalie, perhaps you’ll get a tip and she will fall in love with you…

Hallo Dienstmann! Hallo Dienstmann!
Nehmen Sie hier diese Dahlie!
Hallo Dienstmann! Hallo Dienstmann!
Geh’n Sie damit zur Amalie!
Hallo Dienstmann! Hallo Dienstmann!
Aber wirft man Sie dort raus
Trag’n Sie hundertmal die Dahlie
Zur Amalie
Ins Haus
Bis man Ihnen dort ein Trinkgeld gibt
Und Amalie mich liebt!

Oh, these forgotten professions of yore!