Mutinous memories

A subjective history of French military protest in 1919

Author: Matt Perry

This book explores the eight-month wave of mutinies in the French infantry and navy in 1919. This revolt stretched from France’s intervention against the Soviet Union through the Black Sea, into the Mediterranean and finally resulting in unrest in France’s naval ports. As a consequence, mutineers faced court martials, the threat of the death penalty and years of hard labour.

This research is the result of careful scrutiny of official records and, more importantly, the testimony of dozens of mutineers. It is the first study to try to understand the world of the mutineers, assessing their own words for the traces of their sensory perceptions, their emotions and their thought processes. It shows that the conventional understanding of the mutinies as simple war-weariness and low morale as inadequate. It demonstrates that an emotional gulf separated officers and the ranks, who simply did not speak the same language. It reveals the soundscape (its silences, shouts and songs) and visual aspect of the mutiny. The revolt entailed emotional sequences ending in a deep ambivalence and sense of despair or regret. It also considers how mutineer memories persisted after the events in the face of official censorship, repression and the French Communist Party’s co-option of the mutiny.

This text will interest students, general readers and scholars of the both Great War and its contentious aftermath. Setting the mutiny in the transnational context, it will contribute to the growing interest in 1919 as the twentieth century’s most unruly year.

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‘One of the lasting memories of World War I is the series of mutinies that occurred both during and after the conflict. Readers who are familiar with what happened in Germany and Russia in 1917 and 1918, but not cognizant of the severity of the problems experienced by France in 1919, will find Perry’s Mutinous Memories enlightening. Perry, a reader of labor history at Newcastle University in the UK, sheds light on the international dimensions of this lost aspect of French history during its centennial year. By examining both official records and survivor testimonials, he produces the finest example of scholarship that captures the moment and temper of the times. His investigative research revises long-held assumptions concerning the causes of the mutinies as well as how competing political ideologies have swayed popular perceptions ever since. The mutinies of 1919 have been neglected for far too long. Perry’s lasting achievement is rescuing their memory from the dustbin of history, so future generations can reevaluate their significance as memories and motives fade. Mutinous Memories is a masterpiece of historical scholarship covering a momentous event long forgotten, but one that still has relevance today.
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