1915: The Grenata Street Army

“In 1915 (photographer) Leon Gimpel befriended a group of children from the Grenata Street neighbourhood in Paris who had established their own “army”. He began to visit them regularly on Sundays, helping them to build their arsenal from whatever was to hand, providing direction in “casting”, and recording with his camera the army’s triumphs over the evil enemy, the Boche.

“Gimpel was charmed by these children and came to know each of them well: the “chief”, the eldest in the garrison; his friend, who was conscripted to play the unenviable role of the Boche; and Pépète, who was “small, slightly misshaped, rather scrofulous, looking somewhat like a gnome” but who nonetheless played the part of an ace aviator. At the end of each session, Gimpel would reward the troops with barley sugar, causing all to shout with one voice, “Long live the photograph!”

- Australian War Memorial

8 Responses

  1. Heather

    what a lovely look into the imagination of children… and a talented photographer!

    Reply
  2. Cal

    It is cute – kids will play at reality, however harsh and cold that reality is. Young girls play with dolls, even though this completely glosses over the difficulty and sometimes heartache of the reality of childcare.

    War is a fact of life too, if you’re going to be disturbed, go be disturbed about one the real wars going on this minute, go do something about the situation.

    These kids aren’t hurting anyone, it’s just a game. A cute game at that.

    Reply
  3. CatM

    Joseph – in 1915, they WERE at war. It would have been the main topic of conversation everywhere, and the buildings and streets they were playing in might have already seen combat. It’s not out of the ordinary for children in these circumstances to play war.

    Reply
  4. Wayne

    How “adorable” would we find these images today if we substituted the “Boche” for a kid wearing a turban? This is propaganda, made all the more disturbing by the use of children. Their “innocence” and play naturalizes adult war ideologies. Kids are cute, but these images are disturbing in that they escalate to a mock execution, with a cannon no less!

    Reply

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