Thursday, 4 August 2016

Eugene Bullard - The Black Swallow of Death for Weird War 1

Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, the seventh of ten children born to William (Octave) Bullard, a black man who was from Martinique, and Josephine ("Yokalee") Thomas, a Creek Indian.  His father's ancestors had been slaves in Haiti to French refugees who fled during the Haitian Revolution.  They reached the United States and took refuge with the Creek Indians.

Bullard was a student at the Twenty-eighth Street School from 1901 to 1906.  As a teenager, he stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland, hoping to escape racial discrimination. (He later claimed to have witnessed his father's narrow escape from lynching). Bullard arrived at Aberdeen and made his way south to Glasgow. On a visit to Paris, he decided to settle in France. He became a boxer in Paris and also worked in a music hall.

Eugene Bullard during World War I.

World War I began in August 1914, and on October 19, 1914, Bullard enlisted and was assigned to the third Marching Regiment of the Foreign Legion as volunteers from overseas were then allowed only to serve in the French colonial troops.

By 1915, Bullard was a machine gunner and saw combat on the Somme front in Picardy. In May and June, he was at Artois, and in the fall of that year fought in a second Champagne offensive (25 September – 6 November 1915) along the Meuse river.  He was assigned to the 3rd Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment. On July 13, he joined the 2nd Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment and also served with the 170th French Infantry Regiment (French: 170e Régiment d'Infanterie Française) other known as « hirondelles noires de la mort ». The 2nd Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment and the 2nd Marching Regiment of the 2nd Foreign Regiment were serving as part of the 1st Moroccan Division. Commanded initially by Hubert Lyautey, a Resident-General of Morocco, at the outbreak of World War I, the division was a mix of the Metropolitan and Colonial French troops, including Legionnaires, zouaves and tirailleurs.  Towards the end of the war, the 1st Moroccan Division became one of the most decorated units in the French Army.  The Foreign Legion suffered high casualties in 1915. It started the year with 21,887 soldiers, NCOs and officers, and ended with 10,683.  As a result, the Foreign Legion units fighting on the Western front were put in reserve for reinforcement and reorganization. On November 11, 1915, 3,316 survivors from the 1e and the 2e Etranger were merged into one unit – the Régiment de Marche de la Légion étrangère R.M.L.E, which in 1920 became the 3rd Foreign Regiment of the French Foreign Legion. Bullard participated in the combats on the Somme, Champagne, and Verdun where he was severely wounded on March 5, 1916.

As for Americans and other volunteers, they were allowed to transfer to the Metropolitan French Army units, including the 170th French Infantry Regiment (French: 170e Régiment d'Infanterie Française). The 170th had a reputation of crack troops being nicknamed Les Hirondelles de la Mort, or The Swallows of Death.  Bullard opted to serve in the 170th Infantry Regiment and the 170 military insignia is displayed on his uniform collar. In the beginning of 1916, the 170th Infantry along with the 48th Infantry Division (French: 48e Division d'Infanterie) to which the regiment belonged from February 1915 to December 1916, was sent to Verdun. During convalescence, Bullard was cited for acts of valor at the orders of the regiment on July 3, 1917 and was awarded the croix de guerre.

Family requests help

After hearing about the horrors of the trench war in France, Bullard's father wrote to the U.S. Secretary of State pleading for his help in bringing his son home. He explained that Eugene was born in October 1895, not in 1894, and added a year to his age when he enlisted. However, the French government officials decided that Bullard had been old enough to enlist.


While serving with the 170th Infantry, Bullard was seriously wounded in action in March 1916 at the Battle of Verdun.  After recovering, he volunteered on October 2, 1916 for the French Air Service (French: Aéronautique Militaire)  as an air gunner. He was accepted and went through training at the Aerial Gunnery School in Cazaux, Gironde.   Following this, he went through his initial flight training at Châteauroux and Avord, and he received pilot's license number 6950 from the Aéro-Club de France on May 5, 1917.  Like many other American aviators, Bullard hoped to join the famous squadron Escadrille Americaine N.124, the Lafayette Escadrille, but after enrolling 38 American pilots in spring and summer of 1916, it stopped accepting applicants. After further training at Avord, Bullard  joined 269 American aviators at the Lafayette Flying Corps on November 15, 1916, which was a designation rather than a unit.  American volunteers flew with French pilots in different pursuit and bomber/reconnaissance aero squadrons on the Western Front. Edmund L. Gros, who facilitated the incorporation of American pilots in the French Air Service, listed in the October 1917 issue of Flying, an official publication of the Aero Club of America, Bullard's name is in the member roster of the Lafayette Flying Corps.

On June 28, 1917 Bullard was promoted to corporal.  On August 27, he was assigned to the Escadrille N.93 (French: Escadrille SPA 93) based at Beauzée-sur-Aire south of Verdun, where he stayed till September 13.  The squadron was equipped with Nieuport and Spad aircraft that displayed a flying duck as the squadron insignia. Bullard's service record also includes the aero Squadron N.85 (French: Escadrille SPA 85), September 13, 1917 – November 11, 1917, which had a bull insignia.  He took part in over twenty air combat missions, and he is sometimes credited with shooting down one or two German aircraft (sources differ).   However, the French authorities could not confirm Bullard's victories.

When the United States entered the war, the United States Army Air Service convened a medical board to recruit Americans serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps for the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Forces. Bullard went through the medical examination, but he was not accepted, as only white pilots were allowed to serve. Some time later, on a short break from duty in Paris, Bullard allegedly got into an argument with a French commissioned officer and was punished by being transferred to the service battalion of the 170th in January 1918.  He served beyond the Armistice, not being discharged until October 24, 1919.

For his World War I service, the French government awarded Bullard the Croix de guerre, Médaille militaire, Croix du combattant volontaire 1914–1918, and Médaille de Verdun, along with several others.  After his discharge, Bullard returned again to Paris.

Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6

Skills: Fighting d6, Gambling d6, Notice d6, Piloting d10, Repair d6, Shooting d8

Charisma: 0; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Sanity: 5; Toughness: 5

Hindrances: Code of Honour

Edges: Ace, Alertness, Combat Reflexes, Steady Hands

Gear: Uniform, flying helmet, goggles, silk scarf, M1911 Pistol with 21 rounds (Range 12/24/48, Damage 2d6+1).

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