The First World War mobilized millions of men and women across the world. Among them were famous people, famous from before, during or after the conflict.

The following list contains the name and short story of some of these men who served in the French army :


Guillaume Apollinaire: born in Rome in 1880, Guillaume Apollinaire was the illegitimate son of Polish aristocrat. He moved to France with his family in 1887 and by 1901 he had already published his first poems in various magazines. In 1914 when the war broke out, Apollinaire tried to volunteer in the French army but was not accepted since he was not a French citizen. Several months later, having lost many men, France became less regarding and enrolled him while giving him the French nationality. Apollinaire the 38th Regiment of Artillery, he used most of his free time to write his poems and letters. In 1916, the soldier was wounded at the head by shrapnel. His time on the front was over and he moved back to Paris where he kept writing however he never fully recovered from his injuries. Guillaume Apollinaire died home on the 9th of November 1918 while the population was celebrating the end of the war.

Georges Painvin: born in 1886, Painvin was a professor of paleontology. He also had a passion for everything related to numbers and communication system. He was sent to the front in 1914  but in January of the next year, Painvin requested to be shown German coded messages. He found a way to decipher them and told his superiors about his methods. Soon after, the young man was transferred to the Black Office were secret communications were worked on. He found ways to read several German secret codes as well as the Austrian Navy communications of their submarines. In March 1918, the German Army introduced a new cryptography system called ADFGVX. More complicated, this code prevented France from anticipating in-coming bombing attack on Paris and other cities. In April 18, France put its hands on several messages using this new cipher and gave it to Painvin and another officer. The 1st of June a worrying message was intercepted but after some 26 hours of hard work, the cryptographer provided a translation to the high-command which allowed the French army counter a decisive German attack. Painvin’s work remained secret for the next 50 years due to secrecy laws. He died 1980 aged 94.

Roland Garros: born in 1888 in the oversea department of the Réunion. Despite having suffered from a serious pneumonia when he was 12 years old, Roland Garros became an excellent cyclist. He was also familiar with the piano, in rugby and managed to graduate in a Parisian business school before becoming a car seller. In 1909, Roland Garros witnessed an aviation meeting, he then knew what his dream was. He used most of his savings to buy the cheapest ( and most dangerous ) plane available on the market, a Demoiselle and learned on his own how to fly it. During the following years he participated in various competitions in France and South America. The 23rd of September 1913, Garros was  finally a legend when he became the first man to cross the Mediterranean Sea on a plane in less than 8 hours. A year later, with war destroying Europe Garros volunteered to become a fighter pilot. He shot down three enemy planes in 1915 before being force to make an emergency landing and captured. Three years later and after several attempts, Garros  managed to escape his prison in Germany and returned to France. Despite being severely weakened by his time in captivity, the pilot insisted to be sent back to the front. The 2nd of October 1918, he obtained a fourth victory but three days later, his plane was blown up in the air by a German pilot. He died aged 30 and today his name lives still thanks to a stadium and a tennis competition.

Many other famous French people served during World War One such as the cellist Maurice Maréchal, the future General Charles de Gaulle, Marshal Pétain, writer and novelist Alain Fournier, André Citroën ( founder of the Citroën industries ), the poets Jean de la Ville de Mirmont and Charles Péguy or the singer and actor Maurice Chevallier.