Major Mouton and Beauséjour

The message on the back of this postcard was written 105 years ago by a French serviceman during the First World War.  The writer was not the man pictured on the front of the postcard.  The writer’s name is illegible, and I can’t quite make out the name of the intended recipient or the town where she lived.

Thanks to the message, however, we know the name of the man in the photo.  He was Major Mouton, and the dog with him was named Beauséjour.  They served in the Ambulance corps.  (I haven’t been able to determine the official name for the service, but the stamp on the postcard says Ambulance.)  Here’s the back of the postcard, followed by a transcription of the message:

Major Mouton and Beauséjour 2

Le 21-9-17

Ma petite chérie

Je t’envoie la photographie d’un de mes amis, M. Mouton, Major à l’Ambulance, qui est pour nous un vrai père de famille et qui a la sympathie de tout le personnel.  Il est photographié avec un chien “Beauséjour” — notre favori à tous, qui est très doux et très amusant.  Je l’emmène souvent en promenade.

Mets cette photographie de côté.  Je tiens essentiellement à la conserver.

Mille affectueux baisers

 

An approximate translation:

Sept. 21, 1917

My little darling

I am sending you the photograph of one of my friends, Mr. Mouton, Major in the Ambulance, who is for us like a father and who is liked by all the staff.  He is pictured with the dog “Beauséjour” — our favorite, who is very gentle and amusing.  I often take him for walks.

Set this photograph aside.  I’d like to keep it.

A thousand affectionate kisses

(Please feel free to suggest corrections to my translation.)

 

I would just add that Beauséjour was almost certainly a working dog and not simply a pet.  Dogs were widely employed during the war for search and rescue purposes.

 

29 thoughts on “Major Mouton and Beauséjour

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  1. There is a love story there for sure. Then there must be many stories with the major and dog. He writes that the dog is his favorite. Perhaps there were other war dogs. Thanks for the lovely translation – for French and romantic.

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    1. In just a few lines, the writer conveys respect and affection for both Major Mouton and Beauséjour. He could have written their names and left it at that, but he wanted his girlfriend to understand their importance to him and to their unit. It’s a very unusual wartime postcard, and quite touching.

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  2. It’s interesting that the man’s looking upward, while the dog’s direct gaze seems interested and attentive. It seems a remarkably relaxed photo, perhaps because of the drape of the chain. The dog’s been well-trained, and I suspect ‘gentle and amusing’ suited it well. I was curious about its name. It can be divided into beau and séjour, which is something like ‘a fine visit.’ I wonder if the dog was found and adopted; it would make sense of the name. He could have been one who came to visit and stayed!

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    1. I think it was fairly common for units to adopt stray cats or dogs. The men were often idle for long periods, and the animals provided comfort and entertainment (and help with rodents). I wondered about the name Beauséjour. Also, the writer describes him as “très doux et très amusant.” ‘Amusant’ can be translated as ‘fun’ or ‘entertaining’, either of which might be closer to the writer’s intent than ‘amusing’. The sentence that perplexed me, though, was “Je tiens essentiellement à la conserver,” which Google translates as “I basically want to keep it.” There must be a better way to translate it than that.

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      1. By coincidence, at the moment I am reading the memoirs of Norman Macmillan, an RFC pilot who was flying with 45 Squadron in 1917. One thing he mentions is that they had orders forbidding the keeping of animals on the airfield.

        They ignored this order, and kept several stray dogs….

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  3. What a lovely dog, he looks quite well behaved. I wonder if dogs were employed to find people who were buried after a bombing but potentially still alive? As for the last sentence, I would translate it like “it is very important to me that I keep it” or similar.

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  4. So much to love about this photo/postcard!

    Me? I’m most drawn to the dog, of course. So relaxed, calm, confident, and keenly focused on the photographer. He’s long-legged, lean, wolf-like in appearance. I wonder about his breed/provenance. What role did he play with the military? Clearly he endeared himself to the man in the photo as well as the man who sent the postcard. A testament to the healing power of the human-canine bond, especially in times of stress.

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    1. You put your finger on it, Becky. For both men, Beauséjour was clearly a beloved companion in what must have been a very stressful environment. They also would have been aware that he faced the same risks they did. That made him, in effect, a brother-in-arms.

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