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  • French bantams?

    The minimum height for enlisting in the British Army was 5ft 3 inches At the beginning of the war it was briefly raised to 5ft 6 inches (apparently in an attempt to slow the rush to enlist to a rate that the army could handle) and then lowered back to 5 ft 3 inches. It was later lowered effectively by popular demand to 5 ft 2 inches for special 'bantam' battalions of short men.

    According to 'The French Army from Within [1914]' by 'Ex-trooper' written at the beginning of the war the French Army had different standards "Five feet and half an inch is the minimum standard of height although men of exceptional physical quality are passed into the infantry below this height". This seems extremely short. Were the French of the time generally shorter than the British?

    I know that disparities of height could cause problems in the trenches and one war diary I have a copy of reveals Gurkhas taking over a trench from Sikhs and having to rapidly raise the fire step and I've also come across a mention of an Australian unit having to move crouched over whilst they desperately tried to deepen a Gurkha trench.

    Were there similar issues with the French?
    Last edited by MarkV; 07 Apr 16, 09:16.
    Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
    Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

  • #2
    The WWI poet 'Private' Isaac Rosenberg was a 'short house' who joined the British 'Bantams' - perhaps his best peom was 'Dead Man's Dump'. He was killed in 1917. The five houses he lived in in the UK were 'visited' by the Luftwaffe during WWII.

    It was perhaps a sign of diminishing numbers of reserves to call on that those who would otherwise not be call up, were also roped in to the fray. Generally speaking there were fewer undersized Germans because even their poor tended to be better nourished.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Wooden Wonder View Post
      The WWI poet 'Private' Isaac Rosenberg was a 'short house' who joined the British 'Bantams' - perhaps his best peom was 'Dead Man's Dump'. He was killed in 1917. The five houses he lived in in the UK were 'visited' by the Luftwaffe during WWII.

      It was perhaps a sign of diminishing numbers of reserves to call on that those who would otherwise not be call up, were also roped in to the fray. Generally speaking there were fewer undersized Germans because even their poor tended to be better nourished.
      Bantam battalions were formed well before conscription and began during Kitchener's formation of the new armies. Far from being an act of desperation having to call up the shorties their formation was at first resisted by the authorities but there was much demand from men who had been rejected when they tried to enlist - some of whom started forming pals battalions of short men and the public were behind them so as I said the height was lowered by popular demand.

      However casualties mounting meant that it became increasingly difficult to find short men to fill gaps in the bantam units and their nature became diluted as drafts of taller men were added to their ranks.

      Germans being better nourished and therefore taller is something of yet another WW1 myth and I've seen no concrete evidence to support it. Germany had its share of hungry poor especially in some of the poorer rural southern areas. German agricultural productivity was only two thirds of Britain's in 1913 and worse in these areas so income was also lower
      Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
      Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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      • #4
        I'm not real sure that size really matters that much.

        I've noticed over time that most of the men getting our MoH presented at the White House are at most average size or less. Us bigger people much less often.
        "Ask not what your country can do for you"

        Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

        you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Half Pint John View Post
          I'm not real sure that size really matters that much.

          I've noticed over time that most of the men getting our MoH presented at the White House are at most average size or less. Us bigger people much less often.
          There were some practical issues for the British Army not least with arms and equipment. SMLEs came with three lengths of stock Short (marked S). standard (unmarked) and Long (marked L).

          The short was an inch less than the standard and one and a half shorter than the long. Bantam units were issued with short stock SMLEs but later in the war when drafts of taller men were fed into into former bantam battalions (which in effect became just more service battalions with some short men in them) there would be a supply and stores issue with units having to hold two sizes of rifle.

          When Britain equipped an Italian Naval Infantry unit short stock SMLEs were supplied which might suggest that Italian's also tended to be shorter.

          Given the much lower height requirements of the French Army does anyone know if the Lebel came in different lengths?
          Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
          Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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          • #6
            Just to add emphasis to the point that the bantams were not a desperate measure resulting from a lack of taller reserves. The first Bantam battalion was formed under the auspices of Alfred Bigland MP in early 1915 it being the 15th Battalion, 1st Birkenhead, The Cheshire Regiment. Bigland was inspired by the story of a miner from the NE but originally from Cheshire who had walked 150 miles to Birkenhead to enlist, been rejected as too short and had gone ballistic offering to fight anyone in the recruiting office.
            Ironically Bigland was himself 6 foot 6 inches tall. Look at the attached snippet - see the Bantam standing behind Bigland.
            Attached Files
            Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
            Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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            • #7
              Originally posted by MarkV View Post
              Were the French of the time generally shorter than the British?
              There's been anthropomteric measuring of conscripts etc. since the 19th c., not consistently and not for all countries, but this online tool seems to have brought together a decent amount of it:
              https://ourworldindata.org/data/food.../human-height/

              And yes, the French were shorter on average. (Then there's a north-south divide inside France as well over that.) Most nations were shorter than the Victorian age British. It was a good period to be British, relatively.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Johan Banér View Post
                There's been anthropomteric measuring of conscripts etc. since the 19th c., not consistently and not for all countries, but this online tool seems to have brought together a decent amount of it:
                https://ourworldindata.org/data/food.../human-height/

                And yes, the French were shorter on average. (Then there's a north-south divide inside France as well over that.) Most nations were shorter than the Victorian age British. It was a good period to be British, relatively.
                Thanks for this - very illuminating

                I have often seen statements to the effect that a lot of British new enlistees were under nourished and under size but this appears to be another case of "what everybody knows" and serious studies of the build up of the British war effort such as A Kingdom United - Catriona Pennell and Kitchener's Army - Peter Simkin show that there is a lot of "what everybody knows" that is unsupported by evidence and often contradicted. Certainly the recruitment offices saw undersized and undernourished men often from the slums of major cities such as Glasgow but no more than any other nation and possibly less.
                Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by MarkV View Post
                  Thanks for this - very illuminating

                  I have often seen statements to the effect that a lot of British new enlistees were under nourished and under size but this appears to be another case of "what everybody knows" and serious studies of the build up of the British war effort such as A Kingdom United - Catriona Pennell and Kitchener's Army - Peter Simkin show that there is a lot of "what everybody knows" that is unsupported by evidence and often contradicted. Certainly the recruitment offices saw undersized and undernourished men often from the slums of major cities such as Glasgow but no more than any other nation and possibly less.
                  Well, I know from looking at some of the Swedish surveys from the 1890's that as late as 1898, when all Swedish 21 year old men were surveyed, a full 10% of them were extempt from conscription on the ground that they were STILL, even at that age, growing lads.

                  And Sweden was by international comparison of the day considered quite a tall nation, standing on average just over 170 cm above sea level (5 foot 7).

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                  • #10
                    I remember being told, ages ago, that for a long time in the 19th century, the French tended to be short because of the casualties in the 1812 Russian campaign. A disproportionate number of tall men were killed compared to the general population. Thus for several generations French tended to be short.
                    "To be free is better than to be unfree - always."

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Surrey View Post
                      I remember being told, ages ago, that for a long time in the 19th century, the French tended to be short because of the casualties in the 1812 Russian campaign. A disproportionate number of tall men were killed compared to the general population. Thus for several generations French tended to be short.
                      Unfortunately similar tales have been told about various nations and a number of wars/campaigns from the hundred years war onwards but I've never seen any proper analysis of data to support any of them.
                      Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                      Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Surrey View Post
                        I remember being told, ages ago, that for a long time in the 19th century, the French tended to be short because of the casualties in the 1812 Russian campaign. A disproportionate number of tall men were killed compared to the general population. Thus for several generations French tended to be short.
                        It wasn't just the 1812 campaign, I have heard many times that Napoleon's 20-year campaign to dominate Europe decimated France's best men. The "Spanish ulcer" was costing 1,000 men a day, and that leaves a mark on a pre-industrial population.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by The Exorcist View Post
                          It wasn't just the 1812 campaign, I have heard many times that Napoleon's 20-year campaign to dominate Europe decimated France's best men. The "Spanish ulcer" was costing 1,000 men a day, and that leaves a mark on a pre-industrial population.
                          As I said a much retold fable
                          Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                          Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by The Exorcist View Post
                            It wasn't just the 1812 campaign, I have heard many times that Napoleon's 20-year campaign to dominate Europe decimated France's best men. The "Spanish ulcer" was costing 1,000 men a day, and that leaves a mark on a pre-industrial population.
                            I doubt it, I don't think height works quite that way anyways. It's for the most part about just getting enough food and in pre-industrial/industrial populations that was quite rare.
                            Wisdom is personal

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Karri View Post
                              I doubt it, I don't think height works quite that way anyways. It's for the most part about just getting enough food and in pre-industrial/industrial populations that was quite rare.
                              As with many things it's a mixture of nature and nurture - inheritability and nourishment. The relative proportions of each have long been the subject of argument not aided by the taking of political stances on the subject. In essence if you have a gene pool that tends to produce short people increasing the nourishment available will increase the number reaching their full potential height but it won't produce a nation of tall people. You can't convert pygmies into Watusi by feeding them well. On the other hand if you have an undernourished population you will tend to have a short nation no matter what the genetic propensity for height
                              Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                              Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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