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April 7, 2015

Kids at War: Rare Color Photographs of Children Playing War Games on the Streets of Paris in 1915

As the First World War raged on the Western Front in 1915, a different kind of battle was being staged each Sunday in a Paris neighborhood. The rue Greneta army – a band of children – had caught the eye of a local photographer, Léon Gimpel. The ragtag gang met regularly to re-enact the battles they had heard about from across Europe.

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!”

Léon Gimpel was in Strasbourg in 1873. He was the youngest son of four, born to a Jewish Alsacian family who fled to Paris after Germany took over Alsace in 1870. Gimpel worked for his family's fabric company, managed by his older brother Eugene. In 1897 his interest in photography was kindled when he acquired a Kodak detective camera, he soon swapped this for a Spido Gaumont which allowed him greater creative freedom. By 1900 he was working prodigiously, documenting the 1900 World's Fair in Paris. By 1904 his work was being published regularly in the magazines La Vie au Grand Air, La Vie Illustrée and L'Illustration.

The aviator ‘Pépéte’ has just shot down a ‘taube’ with his machine gun. Paris, 19 September 1915.

‘The Rue Greneta Army’, military decorations are awarded to the troops. Paris, 22 August 1915.

The famous aviator ‘Pépéte’ triumphs in front of his victim. Paris, 19 September 1915.

A ‘taube’ is spotted; a French 75 is immediately put into battery while ‘Pépéte’, the aviator, prepares to give chase. Paris, 19 September 1915.

Defending a house, Rue Dussoubs. Paris, 5 September 1915.

KAMARADE! KAMARADE! NOT KAPUT! Paris, 12 September 1915.

Defending a lamppost. Paris, 12 September 1915.

Interrogating a prisoner. Paris, 19 September 1915.

The troops enjoy a well-deserved rest, while savouring barley sugar lollipops provided by the photographer. Paris, 5 September 1915.

Executing a Jerry... using a French 75! Paris, 29 August 1915.



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