Something Happening in Boissise-la-Bertrand, 1911

Much of the time, it’s rather easy to glean a large portion of information from a stereo slide just by looking at it. For example, a slide featuring a group of French soldiers loading an artillery piece labeled “Fort Vaux, November 1916” makes it clear that this was a scene after the French had recaptured the fort at Verdun after the battle was fought, and were reinforcing it and preparing a bombardment. It might be possible to identify the artillery, or some ranks, or some such. But then again, I look at a lot of Great War slides, and not so many from pre-War era obscure villages in the Seine-et-Marne department of Île-de-France.

But for 75¢ apiece, I couldn’t pass up these four intriguing images which give a view into… something… happening at Boissise-la-Bertrand in August 1911. If you clicked on the above link, you’ll see that the English-language Wikipedia article on the village has just about no information of any useful variety in it. The French version has a little more, run through Google Translate; the village took a significant hit to its population during the Great War – a few years after these stereoviews were taken. It didn’t really rebound until the 1950s, after which there has been steady growth. At the time these were created, it was primarily an agricultural community. We don’t get much more – historically – from the City Hall website, although the Mayor’s message is pretty great (this might just be because the translation through Google is predictably awful):

Click to check out the Boissise-la-Bertrand official webpage. If you don’t speak French, you can do what I did and run it through Google Translate.

Sounds like a great place! Still doesn’t give me any insight into what might have been going on in these photographs from 1911, though, which are all captioned the same – “Boissise-la-Bertrand Aviot 1911”. The person who sold them to me included the following description: “This is a set of four glass stereoviews… They are fighting a fire. Some with hard hats… A large chateau can be seen through the trees in one of the slide.” Almost none of this description seems accurate, however. I don’t see a chateau anywhere, nor do the men pictured appear to be fighting a fire. There is certainly smoke rising from the ground, but they’re not spraying with hoses – they seem to be whacking it with sticks. This is only a guess, but it looks an awful lot like a controlled burn to clear land for farming. This would make sense in an agricultural community, and it would also explain the lack of urgency in the mens’ actions. Furthermore, it would explain why the photographer is standing around loading dry plates into a Verascope camera instead of helping put out the fire. I don’t think this is fire-fighting at all, but again, lacking proper context, I can’t be sure. I am sure that I don’t see a bucket or a fire hose anywhere.

The slides themselves are quite well-taken, apart the first one, which is too hyper-stereo for all of the foreground distractions. In any case, I will leave you to enjoy – and to conjecture yourselves as to what exactly is happening on this August day in 1911.


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