Following their operations in front of Brimont, Loivre and Mont Spin in April/May1917 the 41e DI was brought back to Ville en Tardenois for a well earned rest and a chance to recover from heavy losses (about 25% in each regiment).
Already, by the 4th May, their commander Général Mignot had been asking for his exhausted Division to be retired from the front but it was only on the 12th May that his men were finally withdrawn — after being required to carry out an attack against Mont Spin.
The 23e Régiment d’Infanterie and 133e RI had both been awarded honours for their part in the attack on Loivre (16th April ; one of the few successes on the opening day of the Nivelle Offensive) and this was thought to bring with it a (well) due moment of recuperation away from the line.
Hardly away from the trenches word began circulating on the 1st June that the Division was to be sent back to the front and this set off protests within the 23e RI barracked in Ville en Tardenois. The protest grew and soon encompassed the 133e RI in the neighbouring village of Chambrecy.
A group from the 133e RI managed to free soldiers in detention and Soldat Hartmann became one of the principle leaders of the revolt. Soldiers began singing The Internationale and shouting that what they needed was peace ; they would not go back into the line.
By evening the mutineers number had swollen to about 2,000 malcontents who gathered in front of the Mairie at Ville en Tardenois. Général Bulot, 82e Brigade’s commander arrived in an effort to calm and reassure the men but he was greeted with shouts of “Blood-sucker” and “Murderer” and the mob attacked him physically. He only managed to escape further harm by the intervention of the 23e RI’s commander, Colonel Brindel.
Général Mignot then arrived on the scene and assured the soldiers that they would not be sent back to the front — at least for the time being. His concession, no doubt, having more to do with containing a volatile situation than anything to do with military discipline. The following morning, however, another mass protest took place and taking heed of the situation the upper echelons decided to remove the two regiments from the area.
On the 17th June Général Mignot was replaced and a week later almost the entire officer corps of the 133e RI were posted to other regiments. They were followed by their commanding officer, Lt Colonel Baudrant who was sent to Algeria having demonstrated a lack of authority. Général Bulot and Colonel Kiffer also found themselves replaced.
None of this ever reached the War Diaries of the units involved !
A Court Martial was held on the 12th (133é RI) and again on the 18th June (23e RI) following the arrests of some two hundred soldiers amongst whom were the so-called twenty-eight leading lights. The judges sentenced five of the leaders to death with one of them, Charles Jeannot getting his sentence reduced.
The 41e DI were hardly away when their billets were taken over by the 14e DI. During the Battle of the Chemin des Dames, together with two Russian Brigades and the 37e DI they had been required to take the Fort de Brimont (just to the right of Loivre where one of the outer batteries caused the 41e DI much trouble).
They arrived in Ville en Tardenois on the 6th June.
On the outskirts of the town hutted accommodation had been constructed (and, I am assuming, recently vacated by the 23e RI) which now housed the 42e RI.
A group of protesters arrived in the camp shouting “Down with the war” and brandishing a, by now obligatory, red flag. Shots are fired in the air as they march down the road.
Alerted by his officers of the trouble the Commanding Officer of the 42e RI, Lt Colonel Reboul had his men set up a machine-gun at the entrance to the village.
One dead soldier and three more wounded later, the ardour of the mutineers appears to have been somewhat quelled. An interesting point being that the gun crew had refused to fire on French soldiers (even mutineers) and it was a recently arrived officer, Commandant Jusselain, (Major in the British Army) who had operated the machine gun.
Afterwards it was found difficult to identify just where the mutineers had come from but the suggestion was made that given the mutiny of the previous week there must be civilians in the town stirring up discontent amongst the soldiers.
The 42e RI would be transferred in the coming days to the 41e DI, in replacement for the 133e DI.