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“Rosalie”: Trench Art SMLE with a Most Improbable Story

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Henri Lecorre was a French immigrant to Canada who enlisted in the 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Army in April, 1915. He had a knack for carving things in his rifles, which he started right in basic training, with a Ross rifle he named “Josephine”. That got him sternly rebuked by his Colonel, but he would take up the habit again in 1916 when he arrived in France and began to see combat. At this point the Canadians were issuing SMLE rifles, and Lecorre named his “Rosalie”, after the French bayonet’s nickname.

Lecorre served through 14 major campaigns, and carved each name into his rifle as the years of the war dragged on. He was twice caught and punished for destruction of government property and fined for the cost of the rifle, although he managed to avoid more serious punishment both times. He only embellished the left side of Rosalie, so that his work would be hidden against his leg when standing at attention. By the summer of 1918, Rosalie’s service record included Vimy, Kemmel, St. Eloi, Hoodge, Zellebeck, Courcelette, Bully Grenay, Neuvilles Vaade, Mericour, Lievin, Lens, Cote 70, Passchendaele and Arras.

Fate eventually caught up to Private Lecorre, and in mid-1918 he was seriously wounded in an attack, and woke up in a military hospital in Dieppe. Rosalie was long gone, and Lecorre not return to combat again.

The story is far from over, however. Rosalie was recovered from the battlefield, and sent back to Enfield with a batch of damaged rifles for refurbishment and reissue. Someone in the factory noticed the carving on it, and it was set aside. The arsenal commander took a liking to it, and it was hung in his office – where it remained for some 30 years. A Canadian officer from the 22nd Regiment noticed it at Enfield – thanks to Lecorre carving his unit’s name into it – during the Second World War, and thought it would be appropriate to return it to the unit’s home town, where the Citadelle Museum was established in 1950, with Rosalie as one of its original exhibits.

In 1956, Lecorre himself happened to visit an exhibition near Quebec City where the museum had set up, and was shocked to see his own Rosalie on display. After some understandable difficulty convincing the officer on duty that it was actually *his* rifle (which Lecorre did by reciting back its serial number unseen), a remarkable reunion took place. The rifle remained with the museum, but now with its full story known. It remains there to this day, on permanent display.

The Citadelle Museum commissioned a reproduction of Rosalie to be used for demonstrations, and it is this rifle which was graciously made available to me for filming, as the original is inaccessible on short notice because of its display case. Many thanks to the Citadelle for the opportunity to present it to you! If you are in Quebec City, make sure to take time to visit them:

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