The History Behind Riley and the Great War: France

One Hundred Years Ago Today (allegedly)

The 28th Infantry Regiment took the village of Cantigny on May 28, 1918 and then held it against seven fierce counterattacks over 72 hours. As a result, the regiment proudly bears the nickname “The Black Lions of Cantigny.” While the strategic importance of the victory has been questioned, this first successful offensive battle by American soldiers on European soil was important to Allied morale. Colonel Hanson Ely commanded the regiment.

The depictions of Clemenceau’s background, temperament, and importance to the war effort are consistent with historical descriptions. Winston Churchill made several visits to France during 1918 in his capacity as Minister of Munitions. He had earlier lost the post of First Lord of the Admiralty, having fairly or unfairly taken most of the blame for the failed campaign at Gallipoli.

Paris was indeed threatened by Operation Blücher and came close to being lost, with Clemenceau raging at Pershing to put more of his men into action. Codebreaker Henri Painvin is credited with a herculean and successful effort to break the Germans’ codes after they changed their system, although the extent to which his work contributed to saving Paris has been a subject of dispute.

I find no mention in history of Le Colibri. In some respects, though, his character is reminiscent of the life and legend of the famous gourmet Maurice Edmond Sailland (1872–1956), who used the pen name Curnonsky.

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