Touraine - from then until now!

This blog is an attempt to show some of the vast history of Man's prescence in the Southern Touraine.... from first footfall to the present....
especially in and around le Grand Pressigny area.... with special emphasis on life at and around le Moulin de la Forge.
There will also be occasional entries about time before man was here and when the area was at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea...

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The historic ship and the German spy - a couple of alterations

It has come to my attention that my original post about La Touraine needed a bit of rework.

The main problem is that my link to the first photograph of Touraine was leading nowhere. The FrenchLines website, supposedly an archive and resource on the subject of La Compagnie Générale Transatlantique and its ships, has removed its page on Touraine. There is no longer a link from La Touraine in the list of CGT's vessels to a page of her own, and the entry in the list is the only reference on the site.

 This is what I said in the original post:
French Lines is an organisation dedicated to the preservation of that sector of France's nautical history relating to the great maritime companies from 1850 to the present day, not just documents, photos and films, but complete collections of transatlantic passenger lists, posters, furniture, uniforms, logs, jewellery....
 The deleted page contained brief facts and figures from Touraine's first transatlantic voyage from Le Havre to New York, leaving her home port on 20 June 1891, to her last at the end of 1922, and her last voyage of all, leaving Le Havre on 25th November 1923 for the breaker's yard in Dunquerque.

So much for dedication.

 I have therefore substituted a splendid early postcard of Touraine from Creative Commons licenced by

Secondly, the name of the Le Havre laboratory scientist taking part in the investigation of the fire aboard the Touraine was not Sarnac, but Sanarens. He was the director of the laboratory.

You can find the revised version of the post here.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

La Touraine's Titanic adventure

During her many years spent criss-crossing the Atlantic, Touraine, the liner mentioned in our shred of newspaper from 1915, became involved in one adventure after another. You can read about the original story, The historic liner and the German spy, here.  The best known of these is the loss of RMS Titanic. Touraine was en route from New York to Le Havre as Titanic was setting off from Ireland bound for New York. Touraine encountered pack ice and icebergs, and informed Titanic of their presence by wireless. To no avail.

Below is a prescient article written less than a week after the disaster, which appeared in the journal Le Gaulois on 20th April 1912, followed by my translation.

Tragic voyage
The Titanic sought information from la Touraine
Le Havre, 18 April 1912
Alongside the majestic France, whose entry into service the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique greeted with lavish celebrations, is moored in the Transatlantic harbour the liner Touraine, of the same company, which arrived yesterday from New York.
Master Mariner Caussin, a fine young seafarer, with a direct gaze and decisive movements, is commander of the Touraine. He is keen to give me, on the subject of the voyage he has just completed, some information worthy, it seems to me, of being retained.
Touraine left New York for Le Havre on a scheduled voyage on Saturday 6th April. On Wednesday 10th April, at midnight, she was at the southern tip of the Newfoundland bank, when a few small ice floes appeared on the water; they in no way hindered her progress and her speed was maintained at 15 knots. But these ice floes soon became bigger and more numerous, so much so that an hour later the vessel found herself among pack ice banks, large enough to become dangerous if the hull struck them.
Commander Caussin therefore ordered reductions in speed which fell progressively to four knots. Then, seeking out clear water among the jumble of ice blocks, he succeeded in freeing the ship from the ice field by making a turn southwards.
During the day, another ice field was sighted to the north and was avoided. Two icebergs also appeared. Then, the region of ice having been crossed (which hardly extends, in this season, further than the Newfoundland Bank), the sea became clear and Touraine resumed her course and speed.
While heading for Europe, she communicated, in the constant manner provided so fortunately by the wireless telegraph, with the ships passing, in one direction or the other, within range of her electric beams.
It was thus that, on 12th April, at 7:45 in the evening, she entered into conversation with the Titanic, which was about 100 miles east, on the way to New York. The giant vessel asked Touraine kindly to let her know at which latitude she had crossed the 50th meridian (from Greenwich) and if she had found any ice or fog there.
It must be said that this Fiftieth meridian plays an important role in transatlantic navigation. It is like a sort of oceanic milestone. It cuts the Newfoundland Bank precisely in two, from north to south, and marks the point at which ships make a change of direction for New York, or on the return trip must modify their route. The ships that exchange news inform each other of what is happening at the Fiftieth, like two relatives of each other's health, always with great interest.
Therefore, Touraine made it known to Captain Smith, of Titanic, that he had crossed the 50th at 44° 58" of latitude north and that she had had, at this point, serious entanglements with floating ice.
By a last telegram, whose original I saw pinned up in the watch room of Touraine, Commander Smith thanked his French comrade, wished him bon voyage, and Titanic ploughed on westwards where the ice fields awaited to devour her, exactly at the spot indicated by Commander Caussin.
It is therefore clearly established that Captain Smith was thinking about floating ice and he had been duly warned that it was present in dangerous quantity and form, in the close vicinity of the route on which he was proceeding. What fatality, which circumstance as yet unexplained and which it seems must forever be so, led this experienced seafarer, this reputable navigator, straight to this obstacle that he knew stood in his way, and even its exact position?
Source: le Gaulois, 20 avril 1912 found among


Commander Charles-Fernand Caussin joined CGT as captain of Touraine in September 1911 after leaving the French naval service.  It is interesting that Caussin's reaction to the increasing presence of ice was to slow down till Touraine was creeping along at 4 knots. He had no warning of what lay ahead but his lookouts did their job to perfection.  His cautious approach, his experience, and a crew who worked together and knew each other well, enabled him to feel his way into clear water.

Commander Charles-Fernand Caussin. Source: Gallica

Captain Smith knew that ice was present but carried on at Titanic's full speed of 22 knots. That was the received wisdom at the time, as was revealed at the subsequent boards of enquiry (American and British) into the sinking of the Titanic. This damn-the-battleships approach was heavily criticised at the boards of enquiry and (in the American board anyway) Smith was held responsible, although any of Cunard's captains would have done the same.

Another factor causing Titanic's captain to disregard the ice warning was the Paris baseline from which longitude was given. Attempts to adopt a global definition of the zero meridian began in the early 19th century, and by 1912 many seafaring nations, including the Japanese, had adopted Greenwich as the standard. But then there was national pride to take into consideration. You can read a beautifully written history of the zero meridian at Titanic's wireless operators were actually Marconi employees, rather than Cunard crewmen. They appear to have concluded that Touraine had taken a more northerly route which was shorter but at greater risk from ice so early in the year.

Telegram from Touraine to Titanic
The telegram reads:
No. 1 Office April 12 1912
From Touraine To Capt. Titanic
My position 7pm GMT Lat 49.28 Long 26.28 w. dense fog since the night crossed thick icefield lat 44.58 long 50.40 paris saw another icefield and two icebergs lat 45.20 long 45.09 paris saw a derelict lat 40.56 long 68.58 paris please give me your position best regards and bon voyage. Caussin.
Route of Titanic
As puts it,
"At the subsequent enquiry, the potential for confusion became apparent for all to see, when it was revealed that the telegram sent from the French vessel La Touraine to the Titanic giving the locations of various ice fields and icebergs gave the times in terms of the Greenwich Meridian, but the longitudes in terms of the Paris one. Although there was no suggestion that this was why the Titanic had struck the iceberg, it undoubtedly struck a chord. The Portuguese adopted the Greenwich Meridian in 1913 and the French on all their nautical documents with effect from 1 January 1914. Finally the point had been reached where all the maritime nations of Europe were using the same meridian."
When CGT's new liner France set off on her maiden transatlantic voyage on 21st April 1912, she had an escort, as much to reassure her passengers as anything, a sort of lucky charm, although her slower pace would prevent the new liner claiming the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing - what vessel but Touraine.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

A great patriot, or the man who divided his country?

The article that first alerted me to the date of our scrap of newsprint mentioned Greece, the Hellenes, the Dardanelles. A name - Venizelos.

And an image came into my head. A picture of a grave on the Greek island of Crete, at Moni Profitis Elias, high on a hillside shaded by pines, overlooking the Akrotiri peninsula and the city of Chania. The view from the grave site is breathtaking and every visitor must have taken this photograph, myself included.

The graves of Elevtherios and Sofokles Venizelos, from Cplakidas photo library
The article describes Elevtherios Venizelos as the former President of the royal council, but he was that more than once. The name of the current premier, Gounaris, clinched it. This fragment could only have been printed in late March or very early April 1915.
The Balkan Peninsula between 1878 and 1914, from Tim's wonderful old Atlas of World History

At the beginning of the first world war, the people of Greece were united behind their king, Constantine I, and his President of Council, Elevtherios Venizelos. They had just emerged war-weary but victorious from the Balkan Wars against Bulgaria. This victory had doubled the territory of a nation that did not exist as such eighty years earlier. Greece and Bulgaria both remained neutral at the outbreak of war, even though a murder in Serbia, which shared frontiers with both countries, was the trigger for the war. Serbia, like Greece and Russia, is an Orthodox country and the natural sympathies of most Greeks lay with the Serbs. Constantine, however, grandson of a Danish princeling and of Hapsburg blood, was Kaiser Willhelm's brother-in-law.

Constantine the victorious. The caption calls him Constantine 12th, in the Byzantine imperial line

Elevtherios Venizelos - in retirement
By the end of the war, Constantine had been forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Alexander, and a Greek army of 300,000 was fighting German and Austrian forces in Macedonia alongside troops from France, Russia and Britain. Venizelos was again President of the Royal council, but there were deep divisions in Greece between Royalists and Venizelists, those who wanted the status quo and those who favoured a Greater Greece.  Greeks had raised their hands against Greeks, blood had been shed, and there was more, much more, to come.

An outline of the extraordinary period in Greek history between 1914 and 1918 can be found here. All I can attempt to do here is concentrate on the few weeks during which our newspaper was published.

In March 1915 "the enterprise of the Dardanelles", as Venizelos called it, was at its height, if such it may be called, and the Greek government had dithered about providing any support whatsoever to either side, refusing the warships of the Great Powers coaling facilities.

Venizelos resigned as president of the council of King Constantine of Greece on 6th March 1915 over a proposal under the benign supervision of the Great Powers, and by Sir Edward Grey and the British government in particular, for Bulgaria and Greece to come out of neutrality simultaneously and attack the Ottoman forces. The inducement to be offered to Bulgaria was a port, Kavalla, on the Aegean Sea (see the map). The land, referred to in the article as "the cazas of Sarichabon, Cavalla and Drama" was part of Greece, recently acquired the hard way in the latest of a series of bruising wars with Bulgaria. "The Bulgarian threat" (le péril Bulgare) was still of great concern in Greece.

Greece, in return for her sacrifice, was to be granted a much larger area, on the mainland of Asia Minor, then part of the Ottoman Empire, longer ago part of the Byzantine empire, in the present day the western half of Turkey.  Many of the inhabitants of this area (what? Oh yes, them) were Greek-speaking, and the proposals revealed in an article in le Matin casually referred to managed mass relocation as though people could be taken out of their boxes and moved around and swapped like toy soldiers.

W. Holt-Wright, writing in the Daily Express of 29th March 1915, was one of few British journalists to take Venizelos seriously. He says:
M. Venizelos is the idol of Greece; he has steered his country to victory in two successive wars, and he, more than any man, has brought about a spirit of Greek revival, and has inspired his countrymen to espouse the great cause of the liberation of the 4,000,000 Greeks who still remain the pitiful vassals of the Turk....
M. Venizelos’ plan was clean-cut, comparatively simple, and extraordinarily bold. In effect, he said, the Great Powers are much too busy to interfere; let the Balkan States, therefore, forget their recent quarrels, revive the shattered League, which must now include Roumania, hurl the Turks from Asia Minor, and repatriate their various lost tribes. The Allies, he assured the Greeks, must inevitably win, and when the war was over, apart from the fact that possession was nine points of the law, they would be too sensible of the great help the Balkan States had afforded them to rob them of the fruits of victory.
Nothing, of course, except some possible difficulties in the case of Italy, could have been more welcome to the Allies, and the Greeks were buoyed up with hope and a real and splendid endeavour. Roumania might raise objections, but M. Venizelos was quite certain that an arrangement could be made with her. She also had people — under the heel of Hungary — to be freed.
So far. so good. It was on the question of the bargain with Bulgaria that M. Venizelos nominally fell. He proposed to set a sprat to catch a whale  — that is, he was prepared to cede Bulgaria a small portion of Grecian territory in return for a much larger tract of territory in Asia Minor when the resuscitated Balkan League should have wrested it from the Turk.
From the point of plain common sense it is hard to see where M. Venizelos erred in his calculations and designs. He proposed, reluctantly of course, to surrender the Kavalla district, which has an extent of 2,000 square kilometres and a population of 30,000, but in return Greece was to receive in Asia Minor territory amounting to 125,000 square kilometres, the inhabitants of which -- mostly Greeks — number nearly a million. Thus, in tho event of victory, M. Venizelos would have nearly doubled the present size of Greece, and would have added nearly 20 per cent to the present population.
It was a great dream and a bold scheme and there were unquestionably "conversations” with both Roumania and Bulgaria...
At the promptings of King Constantine, the military declared that the army had not yet recovered from the past two wars. M. Venizelos made answer that an expeditionary force of 50,000 men would be sufficient to secure his purpose and win the goodwill of the Allies.

He also proudly pointed to the fact that during the recent Balkan wars 40,000 Greeks, practically an army corps, had alone come over from the United States — where there are 500,000 of them — and had not merely paid all their expenses for the honour of fighting for Greece, but had actually brought all their savings to pay into the Greek Treasury to aid the success of the campaign.

Next, the Greek financiers were brought to bear on M. Venizelos’ venture. The monetary burden of the campaign, they said, would be more than Greece could support. To all intents and purposes M. Venizelos retorted, “ Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” [nothing changes much here, does it?]
The strictly private and confidential “conversations” with Roumania and Bulgaria went on, and, at the last, there is no doubt that M. Venizelos thought the way was clear for war. Then King Constantine hurled his neutral bombshell. He would never consent to cede an inch of Greek territory, ho said, no matter what was to be got in return; and he declared that he had never allowed M. Venizelos to suppose that he could conduct any negotiations upon such lines.
Deeply offended by the perceived insult,Venizelos resigned, vowing to give up politics forever, but not before publishing the whole thing in the Patris newspaper. The proposal (somewhat selectively) and a slagging by the ultra-conservative toady Gounaris, are the subject of this article.

For once, I have actually located the entire article in the pages of Le Petit Journal at la Bibliothèque Nationale de France. In the library copy, which is a Paris edition, rather than our provincial one, it was published on 3rd April rather than 4th.

Other Greek-speaking enclaves around the Mediterranean, such as Corfu, Symi and the Dodecanese, along with Trieste and Trentino, were at this time being bundled up, successfully in this case, as an inducement to Italy to join the war on the Great Powers' side. The story next to the Venizelos article, represented on our fragment only by a list of words, proved to have the title "L'accord de l'Italie avec la Serbie et la Russie".

Here is an updated reconstruction of the main section of the clipping.
And here is the whole article, with an English translation.

And Venizelos? He admired the British and their Parliamentary system. Who was he? A natural politician, born into a relatively humble (i.e. middle class) family in Crete. He is another man who could be called a bundle of energy, a man of massive highs and lows. He rose to the top in the Greek parliament simply by being better than anyone else.

The elder statesman
Elevtherios Venezelos is still beloved in his native island. There are daily coach outings to his birthplace in Mournies and to his grave.

Any suggestion of that he might have lived with a bipolar condition may be considered alongside the fact that he was a Cretan. I can only refer you to the works of his near contemporary and great admirer, Nikos Kazantzakis, and particularly Zorba the Greek.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Scratches on the wall

The extraordinarily clear light of autumn enabled me to take a few photos of the marks in the doorway of one of our little outbuildings, the one we use as a toolshed. There is some writing there, and pictures.

The text and figures are scored deeply into the stone. I am publishing this post unfinished as an appeal to anyone who can for help in interpreting this. It appears to date from the second world war, when several resistance groups operated in this area. Jean Rousellot filmed them for his L'histoire de chez nous 1940 - 1945.  Does this have something to do with them?,

To someone more familiar with French handwriting and script styles the text may be perfectly clear.  To me, the only unambiguous phrase is the date le 5 juin 1944. Even this is imperfect - it could be le 15 or le 25 juin (see photo 2). There seems to be another date and an illegible name: le 10 nove de chez M. de???elle (photo 7). Could this be "Charcellay"? Or Décharte? We will ask....

There are two drawings. One is just a head, in profile, with a high bulging forehead, a large beaky nose and a big chin, a line across the top of the skull may represent a severe (military) haircut. He can be seen clearly in the first photograph, and again in 3,4 and 7. Next to it a natural (?) shape in the stone reflects the drawing.

The second, also in profile, shows a man smoking a clay pipe, again with a large beaky nose and chin, but with spiky hair sticking out from his pate. He appears on photo 5, and again on photo 2 which seems to indicate long legs. In photo 6 his pipe can be seen, along with the smoke rising from it. The figure was drawn earlier than the date, which is carved across it.

Tim suggests a child's hand for the human images, but I disagree. I think both images are of the same person, but they were drawn by different people. Who had a large beaky nose and chin? General de Gaulle, the exiled leader of the French resistance.

Here are the photos:

Photo 1.
les c?hmi? ? cochons?  de chez M. ...

Photo 2.
  Le ? Avril // 1944  le x5 juin

Photo 3.  ?
le 10 nove(mbre?)  de ?chez M? de ??ellay?? see also photo 7
les cochons?

Photo 4.
les c?h?
Photo 5.
le ? ?avril? 1944 le 5 juin

Photo 6. 
R (or P) ??trie or ??bie

Photo 7.
le 10 nove de chez M. ace  .... cell(?ay?)

Monday, 13 July 2015

How La Touraine carried thousands of passengers to New York before she was launched

Our ocean liner from our newspaper cutting, La Touraine, followed as eventful a career as any storyteller could wish for. She was the "just William" of the seas - wherever she went, unusual and interestin' things just sort of happened.

At the Paris Exposition Universelle (World's Fair) of 1889, the newly constructed Eiffel Tower was one of the top attractions. The Exposition was a showcase of France's manufacturing industries and of her place in the world. La Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, owners of La Touraine, was one of the French manufacturing and service companies with its own pavilion, on the bank of the Seine at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Extract from the map of the 1889 Exposition Universelle. The CGT panorama is the circular building top right

The official guide to the exhibition, as quoted by "Joconde", the portal of the museums of France, describes the edifice thus:
"Higher up, at the level of the avenue de La Bourdonnais, we find the Panorama of the Compagnie Transatlantique. It is a polygonal construction, raised on piles, the exterior of which is decorated with immense maps representing all the countries of the world linked to the various French ports by the Company's liners.
Sweet memories
"On entry, you find yourself on the staircase of a great steamer, whose two principal decks you visit in sequence. It is the exact reproduction, life size, of the steamship la Touraine which is under construction. Eleven dioramas, the work of Messieurs Poilpot, Hoffbauer, Montenard and Motte, display to you the luxurious accommodation of a great Transatlantic liner, the salons, the smoking room, the passenger cabins. To one side are reproduced several fascinating scenes: the arrival of a steamer in New York, views of the principal ports used by the Compagnie Transatlantique, their immense dockyards.

Figure 3 - La Nature, 1889 - cross-section through the Panorama

"You finally come out on the bridge of the ship, and there, the illusion is such that, almost by the movement, that you believe youself to be out at sea. In the distance the port of Le Havre can be seen and the nearby cliffs beaten by the waves. If you look around, you can see the complete superstructure of a ship with her masts and all their ropes; and all of it is extended and finished so well on painted canvases that you cannot truly say where the actual ship on which you are walking ends and where the artist's work finishes. All around, the fleet of the Compagnie Transatlantique appears in ranks, formed by steamers of all tonnages, from the enormous liners of the New York line to the more modest vessels of the Algeria lines."
Original poster, recently changed hands for over €3,000

The Panorama is described in splendidly florid detail detail in "L'Exposition Universelle de 1889" by Louis Rousselet (published in 1890).
"You have no sooner entered the Champ de Mars panorama, than you find yourself transported right to the heart of a ship. Dark, narrow corridors lit to left and right by portholes represent, with a good degree of fidelity, the outlines of a boat. An odour of pitch, suffusing pretty well everywhere, finishes off the local colour, I had better say… local aroma. You pass through travellers’ cabins, outfitted in great luxury. A little staircase comes in sight. You climb it and suddenly you are transported to the bridge of an immense liner, la Touraine, such as she will be in days to come. In reality, la Touraine rests still on the stocks in the construction yard. This little subterfuge, by placing the spectator on a liner which does not yet exist, has the advantage of letting you see the entire existing fleet.
"On this bridge, tackle is hanging, ropes unroll on the floor, the steersman turns the wheel, the compass needle trembles in the binnacle, the captain, leaning on the railing, gives the last orders. The ship is ready to depart. Foredeck passengers, after deck passengers, crowd on the gangplanks, glancing one last time at the dry land of France, which, in a few minutes’ time, will be slipping little by little into the distance and will sink suddenly below the sea’s horizon. All along the davits of the Touraine the sea slaps, shimmers, gleams. Sailing yachts, to see her closer, veer and tack in her stream, with a swirling as of great sea birds with white wings. Light skiffs, carrying overdue passengers, turn back towards the port, spotted with smoke, the bow white with foam, leaving behind them a deep wake, whose undulations ruffle the surface of the waters.
"We also, interested visitor, we must leave. An impression, at least, has been given to us. And what a departure! The sun’s rays sparkle out of sight, drowning in their gilded waves the immense horizon of the mouth of the Seine, which acts as the roadstead of le Havre whose white houses rise in rows on the flanks of the hillside. Down there, the abrupt spine of the point of La Hève; here, the hillsides slipping past which border the Seine, on this side, the green, dark slopes of Ronfleur and Trouville, on the other, the infinite horizon hiding the English coast. In this giant picture frame, the sea calm, peaceful, the sea in multiple tones, and on it, proud of their strength and majesty, all the ships of the Company, crowing with joy, present for the departure of their youngest sister. It is la Gascogne, la Champagne, la Normandie, it is la Bretagne. In the luminous air which surrounds them, one can see the specific details which give them their own individuality. Those who know them cannot mistake them and give one the name of another. 
Figure 1 - La Nature, 1889 - View towards the bow. Watch out for crowing ships
"The tour of the bridge completed, you go back down to the between-decks. A new spectacle waits for us there. In place of the cabins aligned the length of her sides, there are dioramas, that is to say huge paintings on vast canvases and which, instead of being circular like those of the panorama, are laid out on a vertical plan. The lighting, cunningly placed, varies the general and the local tones in such a way as to produce, be it on several points, be it on the entire picture, all possible natural or artificial luminous effects. 
"The Transatlantic Company’s dioramas each represent a distinct part of the ship: the saloon, the dining room, the smoking room, cabins of the different classes, boarding, etc. etc. Others show different ports more particularly frequented by the liners of the Company. Here is Marseilles with its old city walls, their heights reddened by the light of the setting sun, darkened at the foot by the waves of the Mediterranean. There is Algiers with its ranks of white houses, exploding in the dark greenery of exotic plants. Here is New York with the grandiose, luminous panorama of her harbour."
Figure 2 - La Nature, 1889 - View towards the stern

The Exposition Universelle attracted visitors in their millions, from Parisian factory workers and shop girls to official visitors from all over the world. The lifelike interior of the Panorama gave the impression of rubbing shoulders with the nobs in First Class. It proved so popular that the CGT revived and revised it for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, featuring all their ships, including La Touraine (12,000 bhp!) on a Mediterranean voyage.

This exhibit, called the Maréorama, intrigued Finnish-American Professor of Media Studies Erkki Huhtamo at the beginning of the 21st Century to such an extent that he lectured on the subject extensively under the headline "Mareorama Resurrected". His story of how he became interested in the Maréorama echoes our own. The spirit of La Touraine lives on.