Valor Friday

| June 2, 2023

Albert Séverin Roche wearing his medals and the distinctive beret of the chasseurs alpins troops

French Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch, who was Supreme Allied Commander during World War I, once called Albert Roche “The First Soldier of France.” Roche, born in 1895, was of course not the first French soldier, Marshal Foch’s own service predates Roche’s birth by nearly three decades. He was, in Foch’s estimation, the first in the sense that he was the premier soldier of the French Army.

Foch was hailed as a hero for leading the Allied armies to victory in the First World War. He is largely considered the architect of the successes enjoyed by the Allies in 1918 up to Armistice on 11 November of that year. He also famously predicted that the Armistice wasn’t going to keep France secure from a renewed war of German aggression. He said, “This is not Peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years.” The Second World War started just shy of 21 years after the First ended.

I give this background about Marshal Foch to point out that if he thought that Albert Roche was the best soldier, then his opinion should be given significant weight. Roche’s story is one of triumph over foes both within and without of his own Army, but of tragedy as well. His exploits are known in France, but virtually unheard of outside the country.

Roche was the third child born to a poor family of farmers in the small rural commune of Réauville. In 1913, with Europe posturing for war, he tried to enlist in the French Army. Standing only about 5’2” tall and slight of build, he was denied enlistment for being too puny. His father was apparently pleased with that, saying “We need arms to run the farm.”

As the continent burst out into the largest military conflict seen to that date in the summer of 1914, Roche again tried to enlist. To do so, he packed his bags and ran away from home. He traveled south to Allan, where he joined an Army training camp.

During his basic training, Roche did not score well. His training cadre thought little of his soldering, and he was not well respected by his peers. He argued openly with his superiors, and was known for brawling. After one bit of insubordination, while frustrated, he just walked away from camp.

Immediately arrested for desertion, Roche’s defense was that he wanted to be sent to the front. Which is where deserters in the rear were often sent as punishment. As the war by now had already descended into the stalemate that would become the horrors of the war’s trenches, the French Army acquiesced to his wish. In July 1915 he was sent to Aisne to join the 27th Battalion of Chasseurs Alpins (27e BCA).

A chasseur in the French Army are light infantry formations designed for rapid movement. Alpins refers to the Alps, as the 27e BCA are mountain troops. The 27e BCA would earn repeated distinction during World War I (and then again in World War II). As a unit, the 27e BCA received nine mentions in dispatches and the fourragère of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest decoration. The 27e BCA was nicknamed the “Blue Devils” by their German foes, as they wore a blue uniform and were known for their fighting prowess.

Arriving at the front, Roche was eager to prove himself. In the summer of ‘15, an officer of the battalion asked for 15 volunteers to take out a German machine gun position. Roche stepped up and offered to do it with two men. The officer, perhaps knowing Albert’s record of pugnacity, accepted their offer, and off they went.

During December 1915, as the trenches of the front were expanding and becoming more and more complex, Roche volunteered for a nighttime recce mission.

Roche crept across No-Man’s-Land and up the enemy trench to where he could see into a German blockhouse. Within the house, he could see several of the Kaiser’s men huddled around a stove for warmth. Roche moved to a position where he could drop several grenades down the stove pipe.

The Germans, surprised by their stove exploding, thought they were under attack from a major enemy force. Several of their comrades lie dead, and the rest were no doubt covered in dust, ash, and other debris from the explosion. They ran out of the destroyed house, into the open, and surrendered immediately.

Roche, alone, marched eight German soldiers back to his lines as prisoners. Before he did, he ordered them to pack up and carry all of their machine guns.

During the war, the 27e BCA were typically moved between Aisne and Alsace. It was in the latter location that Roche would next distinguish himself. He and his brothers in arms were in a trench facing a heavy German assault.

One by one, all of Roche’s fellow soldiers were killed. As they dropped, he moved back and forth along the line, collecting their weapons, and giving a determined defense. The lone survivor of the defense, Roche made his enemy believe he was still a fighting squad. The tactic held off the Germans, who eventually gave up trying to take the position.

Albert’s free spirit and small size helped him carve out a niche. He frequently volunteered for reconnaissance missions. On one such occasion he and a lieutenant were captured by the enemy. While being interrogated by the Germans, Roche was able to attack his captor, steal his pistol, and escape.

Roche found his lieutenant, and carried the man on his shoulders back to friendly lines. He also brought back some German prisoners. Forty-two of them. While wearing his wounded lieutenant as a backpack. “Too puny,” huh?

In April 1917 the month-long Nivelle Offensive in the Aisne region began. The 27e BCA was to be part of this operation. By the end of the offensive, while many tactical successes were had by the French and British, overall the high cost (nearly 200,000 casualties out of 850,000 men) changed the war. The commanding general was sacked, mutinies occurred, and the French took a defensive posture for most of the rest of the war.

Into this maelstrom the men of 27e BCA were ordered to make a forward assault across No-Man’s-Land. As they did so, the well entrenched Germans took them under heavy direct and in-direct fire. The men of Roche’s company were decimated. Among the men taken out was Roche’s captain.

Leading from the front, the captain was taken out by an enemy artillery shell. Roche saw him disappear into a fountain of mud, but he could see enough to know that the man was still alive.

Roche didn’t want to leave his comrade behind, so he crawled forward. Alone. For six hours. Through the mud, shrapnel, and human detritus. Keeping low he frequently had to stop to make sure he wasn’t spotted moving.

After his arduous trek, he arrived to find his captain severely wounded, but alive and conscious. The smart move would be to wait for nightfall, but the captain was bleeding so badly, Roche decided to drag him back immediately.

The trip that took six hours alone took him four hours while dragging the injured officer. As hard as it is to crawl through the shelled, muddy ground between the trenches it’s orders of magnitude harder while pulling another man along that can’t move under his own power.

Roche and the captain got back to French lines, where Roche handed him off to stretcher bearers. He then fell, completely exhausted, into a nearby shell hole and passed out.

Roche was awakened some time later by a French patrol. Finding him sleeping on the front, alone, and away from his lines, they accused him of being a deserter. Roche, exhausted, sleep deprived, and with a natural propensity for arguing, soon talked himself into being arrested. The penalty for desertion? Death.

Roche had no witnesses to corroborate his story, except for a now unconscious captain, who was at one of any number of field hospitals (if he was even still alive). Field commanders at the front could summarily execute their own main for failure to go over the trench wall, who were sleeping on duty, or otherwise deserting their posts. By war’s end, more than 2,500 French soldiers were so convicted, with at least 1,000 of those executed.

As you’d imagine, at the front, in a time of war, trials for such crimes were swift and brief. He was found guilty and sentenced to be executed within 24 hours. He was given enough time to write a letter home to his father, and was lined up to hear one last gunshot.

As the firing squad was lining up, a messenger came forth. He had a message. Roche’s captain had woken and verified his story. Roche was moments away from being executed when the only witness to his insane heroics was able to save him.

Roche continued serving through the end of the war in November 1918. He was wounded in action nine times. He captured 1,180 enemy. Only 23, he’d received only one promotion and was still a first class soldier (private) by rank.

Marshal Foch somehow discovered Roche’s record shortly after the Armistice. He said of Roche, “He has done all this, and he has no rank.” Roche was presented to Marshal Foch on 27 November 1918 at the city hall of Strasbourg. Foch said, “Alsatians, I present to you your liberator Albert Roche. He is the first soldier of France!”

For his bravery in action, Roche received the Volunteer Combatant’s Cross, the War Cross (1914-1918), the Military Medal (analogous to an American Silver Star), and was made an Officer of the Legion of Honor (France’s highest honor). Roche had received four citations in orders at the army-level, which is roughly equivalent to an American Bronze Star Medal for valor).

Medal of the Legion of Honor

Roche received the medal of the Legion of Honor from the commander of the Army of the Vosges, General de Maud’huy. He was also invited to dine with General Mangin, the former commanding officer of the French 11th Army Corps.

Post war, Roche became a laborer and then a fireman at the National Gunpowder Factory. He married and had two children. In 1920 he was selected to be among the hand-picked eleven French servicemen to pick the Unknown Soldier. With seven of those comrades, he was a pallbearer for remains of the man picked as the Unknown. They carried the casket through the Arc de Triomphe.

In 1925, upon the death of British Field Marshal Lord French, Roche was one of the small contingent sent to officially represent the people of France. Along with five other men of the delegation, Private Roche was invited to dine with King George V.

He died in April 1939, just a few months before World War II began, from injuries sustained in a traffic accident as he was getting off the bus from work. Historian Pierre Miquel observed about Roche’s untimely demise at just 44 years old;

“[Roche] had gone through four years of war, he had been wounded nine times, he had been close to death a thousand times, Almost unjustly shot as a mutineer. He had escaped all dangers, all accidents. […] All of this to be killed twenty years later, on his way home, on the descent of the bus.”

In death, he’s been memorialized with street names and stamps bearing his name and likeness. Most recently, just this year in fact, the Swedish heavy metal band Sabaton released “The First Soldier”, a song about the wartime heroics of Roche.

Category: Army, Historical, Valor, We Remember

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The French were tough and brave fighters.

They were wiped out.

And now we have France today.

USMC Steve

As is often the case the Frogs get a bad rap. They had some good troops, but a loooot of really crappy leadership.

President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

If you were to write this as a story, no one would believe you.

Coming from such worthy genetics, it would be curious to find out what became of the two children.

This is the correct name, and the age seems appropriate, but I don’t know for sure. Maybe Ninja can find out.

Marie Severin, the legendary Marvel artist who never got her due (


DAAAYYUUM! A Warrior’s Warrior! “Beware the size of the fight in the dog…” That such men lived…and his Captain too.

Battery Gun Salute to Pay Honors to this Hero. Rest Well, Good Sir.

Great story, again, Mason. No matter how far away the fence line is, you still are knocking ’em out of the park It is muchly appreciated by we Historians and admirers of Heroism. Thanks.

Personally, and from my research of the War to End All Wars, I feel that Foch got a tad bit too much credit for the ending of the war. I believe that his greatest strategic victory was letting Black Jack keep the American Forces independent of French and British Troops vs combining them into existing formations and continuing the failed “over the top” trench warfare tactics that had cost millions of lives thru the previous 4 years. Lots of pressure was put on Jack to spread the “Yanks” thru out the front, under French of British Officers and he told them to go piss up a rope.


Some men have to be stopped, even if by accident.

May you rest well, Mister Roche.

More than well-earned!