The Graphic magazine is always a fascinating source for illustrations, photographs and information reflecting the multi-faceted character of the Great War. But we were particularly intrigued to come across this illustration, drawn by Ernest Prater from an eyewitness sketch and published in the paper on 3 April 1915.
The Chausseurs Alpines, a mountain infantry regiment, was formed in 1888 in response to the potential threat posed on the French Alpine border by the newly unified Italy (who were already forming their own equivalent 'Alpini' regiment). Wearing a distinctive uniform of a loose, dark blue tunic, grey blue trousers and an oversized beret, the elite Chasseurs Alpins specialised in combat on the mountaineous terrain. For much of the year of course, mountaineous terrain was snow-covered and although it might be expected that skis would be used as a practical means of getting about, it seems extraordinary that they were used, as pictured here, during an attack.
According to the caption accompanying this picture, around forty Chasseurs Alpins, under one officer, carried out this heroic charge on skis at Hermannsweiler Kopf in Alsace. When the position they were in, among a forest of fir trees on top of the hill was surrounded by the enemy, they dashed down the hill with bayonets fixed. They must have been a fearsome sight as they approached at speed, but vastly outnumbered all were tragically killed after a hand-to-hand fight.
It is difficult to divorce our perception of the First World War from the trenches of Flanders and coastline of Gallipoli but scenes such as this serve to remind us that men fought over all kinds of terrain and in all kinds of ways. The Chasseurs Alpins may not have gone 'over the top' to their deaths, but their heroic downhill charge amid the picturesque snow-covered hills of Alsace, certainly made an impression on us, and those who witnessed it in 1915.