The French Soldier Who Went From Dereliction of Duty to National Hero

In 1913, Albert Roche was rejected by an assessment board of the French Army because he was considered too puny to serve. His father was delighted, as he wanted his son to work with him on their farm. However, Albert wanted to fight, so in opposition to his father, he packed his bag and ran away. He went to another enlistment camp and was accepted into the military. He was assigned to the 27th Battalion of Chasseurs Alpins — otherwise known as the Blue Devils — where he immediately volunteered to destroy a German blockhouse. Albert returned to his base with 8 prisoners and their machine guns. In another instance, he was trapped in a trench, where he used the weapons of his dead comrades to chase back a squadron of German soldiers. Finally, during the battle of the Chemin des Dames, Albert’s captain was seriously wounded and fell between the lines. Albert crawled under fire for 6 hours to reach him, and another 4 hours to hand him over to medics. Exhausted, he fell asleep in a guard hole, but was awakened by a patrol who mistook him for sleeping on duty. Abandoning your post under fire was punishable by execution by firing squad within 24 hours. Despite his denials, Albert had no witnesses and was sent to a detention barracks to await execution. As Albert was being taken in front of a firing squad, a messenger arrived with a message from Albert’s captain, who had awakened from his coma and sent testimony of Albert’s bravery. By the end of the war, Albert had personally captured 1,180 prisoners. On Nov. 27, 1918, on the balcony of the City Hall of Strasbourg, Albert was presented with the title of “First Soldier of France.” He returned home, where he became a firefighter, got married, and had two children. On April 14, 1939 Albert was struck by a car as he stepped off a bus on his way home from work. He was taken to the Sainte-Marthe hospital in Avignon, where he died later that day at the age of 44. Albert Roche had gone through 4 years of war, had been wounded 9 times, had been close to death thousands of times, and was almost unjustly shot as a deserter. All of this to be killed 20 years later on his way home from work.