A Sailor’s View of Early Service in the Marine nationale on the Eve of the First World War


  • Chris Madsen




Matelot torpilleur, Georges Brucelle, Casabianca, French Navy, lower deck, torpedoes, Marceau, sailor training, Toulon, 5th dépot des équipages de la flotte


Conventional naval histories seldom consider the individual experiences of common sailors. Subaltern and other approaches to history from below use new sources to take a different viewpoint. In May 1913, recruit Georges Brucelle arrived in Toulon to start voluntary service in France’s Marine nationale. After completing common training, he specialized in torpedoes and undertook instruction to gain qualification. Assigned to a destroyer minelayer, Brucelle died along with many other of the ship’s crew during operations in 1915. Personal letters sent to his family reveal insights into the working and social lives of a French sailor just before the Great War.

Les histoires navales conventionnelles tiennent rarement compte des expériences individuelles des marins ordinaires. Les approches subalternes et autres de l’histoire par le bas utilisent de nouvelles sources pour adopter un point de vue différent. En mai 1913, la recrue Georges Brucelle arrive à Toulon pour commencer le service volontaire dans la Marine nationale. Après avoir terminé une formation commune, il se spécialise dans les torpilles et entreprend une instruction pour obtenir une qualification. Affecté à un contre-torpilleur mouilleur de mines, Brucelle mourut avec de nombreux autres membres de l’équipage du navire lors d’opérations en 1915. Des lettres personnelles envoyées à sa famille donnent un aperçu de la vie professionnelle et sociale d’un marin français juste avant la Grande Guerre.

Author Biography

Chris Madsen

Chris Madsen is a Professor in the Department of Defence Studies at the Canadian Forces College and Royal Military College of Canada in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Contact: madsen@cfc.dnd.ca)


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French sailors dancing with local women.




How to Cite

Madsen, C. (2024). A Sailor’s View of Early Service in the Marine nationale on the Eve of the First World War. The Northern Mariner Le Marin Du Nord, 33(2), 245–272. https://doi.org/10.25071/2561-5467.1132