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My near 80 year old mother remembers having this poem recited to her by her mother as a young girl. She remembers a great deal but there are some gaps. Is anyone able to place it in context or provide more information? We suspect it dates to World War I era. The following is an incomplete and possibly inaccurate transcription of her memory. In particular, was Senlis surrounded by an area with the pronunciation of Ardefine at the time?

Swinging through Senlis, in Ardefine
comes a French regiment of the line,
among the people who cheer for joy,
is Gustav Chetaine, the gardener’s boy.

Now Gustav, who stands just four foot three,
wishes that he might a soldier be,
but Ah! My lad you’re not yet fit,
being only 14 years and a bit.

On go the troops, if you look you’ll find,
the gardener’s boy still lurks behind,
on to the station, he’s there again,
he smuggles onto the soldier’s train.

Brave lads, they’re loathe to part with him yet,
they think to make him the Regiment’s pet,
but that is a role he must decline,
no pet, but a soldier of the line.

They get to the front, (with the gardener’s boy)
to a little village near Fontenoy,
where a maid with streaming eyes,
cries “save me, save me, the foemen are near (nigh)”.

???
???
???
???

Into the camp which was all astir,
Gustav reports, “Seven prisoners, Sir”!
Forced to swallow their bitter cup,
their heads hang down and their hands go up.

When they ask what his reward should be,
“Please make me a soldier”, said four foot three.
There on the spot the deed was done,
Such soldiers they need, so they made him one.

Twice he was wounded with shot and steel,
just to return when his wounds should heal,
???
???

Then comes his Colonel to (the) hospital,
gives him his stripes as a corporal,

???
???
and the badge of honour shall shortly be,
pinned to the breast of four foot three!
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    Its generally good form to mention what you've already tried in tracking this down, so we don't have 15 users wasting their time duplicating the same doomed effort. As I'm not having much luck googling the text.. I'm guessing you already tried that, right? – T.E.D. Sep 9 at 20:38
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    Maybe this is about him? fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Chatain ? – kimchi lover Sep 9 at 20:48
  • This snippet shows your mother was not the only fan of this poem. books.google.com/… – kimchi lover Sep 9 at 20:58
  • With ref to my previous comment. Google books is kind of bad at bibliographical info; the tiny snippet I mention appeared in the 1921-1973 periodical "The New Dawn", an English union periodical. The British Library describes it as " The new dawn : The official organ of the National Union of Distributors & Allied Workers. Manchester : National Union of Distributive and Allied Workers, 1921-1973. Manchester." – kimchi lover Sep 9 at 21:23
  • Maybe "in Aredefine" is a Mondegreenism for "in order fine"? – kimchi lover Sep 9 at 23:02
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I cannot find anything on the poem itself, but Gustave Chatain is a well known French World War One historical figure who enlisted surreptitiously at age 14, received commendations, and rose to the rank of corporal. Here he is in a publicity photo with Foch.

enter image description here

The first of three tales in this booklet tells a (somewhat fanciful) version of Gustave's enlistment and heroism in capturing seven Germans sleeping in a barn.

So he crept softly up the ladder and saw seven "Boches" lying fast asleep on the floor, where they had spread out beds of hay for themselves. The fearless boy brought down the butt-end of his rifle sharply on the floor and awakened them. Then they all sat up suddenly, looking very much alarmed.

....

Gustave ordered them to stand in a row as if at drill. Then he called to his companions, who were greatly amused and astonished to see seven big German soldiers holding their hands above their heads, while the gallant French boy stood looking at them with a stern, proud face. They raised a cheer for Gustave and called him a hero.

Here is another more complete retelling, in French, of Gustave's adventures.

And excerpts from Le Petie Parisien dated Jeudi 14 Septembre 1918 enter image description here

And another from the Journal du Loire

enter image description here

Fontenoy is in Belgium on the border with France, roughly 25 km NW of Mons and about halfway to Lille, and the site of a famous French victory in the War of Austrian Succession. This was the NW end of the Battle of the Frontiers in August 1914, when five German armies advancing through the Ardennes defeated French and British forces, driving them south towards Paris.

Senlis is a short distance NNE of Paris, at the very north end of French lines during the French/British victory at the Marne that drove German forces from Paris back into Belgium.

enter image description here

I have found two possibilities for the "Ardefine" reference in the song. Neither one quite fits, but for completeness here they are:

  • Gustave first joined up with a regiment of mountain troops; or in French: "Troupes alpines".

  • The Department due west of Paris, including Versailles, is Yvelines. This is still about 25-30 km from Senlis, but perhaps artistic licence.

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This is rank speculation, since I couldn't find a copy of the poem, but I'm going to guess that your mother's "Ardefine" is actually "Ardennes fine". I believe the final "s" is silent, and of course "fine" can be synonymous with "beautiful".

The Ardennes is an area of forest, rolling hills, and other rough terrain running along the southern border of Belgium. The two towns mentioned, Senlis and Fontenoy are in France (NE of Paris) and Belgium (South Central) respectively. While a direct march between the two would probably go through a border forest, technically that would more likely be the nearby Scarpe-Escout, but that wouldn't have been as famous (and wouldn't have scanned as well in a poem). Alternatively, I suppose they could have marched in through the Ardennes, and then come in to Fontenoy from the East.

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    This honestly ought to be a comment, but I thought it could use the extra paragraphs and links. When we get a better-informed answer, I'll happily delete it. – T.E.D. Sep 9 at 21:39
  • Gustave Chatain is certainly a known historical figure - who served in the French Army during WW1. Here he is with Foch. If the incident of the poem occurred in August 1914, then they certainly would have recently retreated from the Ardennes to the east. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 9 at 22:18
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    @PieterGeerkens - It seems possible. If he was really that well-known, then it shouldn't be too much trouble to find what unit he was associated with, and track its history. I'm quite sure the research is well beyond my skills though, as a guy who took 2 semesters of French in 6th grade every other Tuesday, and got a C-. – T.E.D. Sep 9 at 22:27
  • 92nd Regiment, according to the Journal du Loire clipping PieterGeerkens gave, and according to this paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/MIC19150402.2.8 – kimchi lover Sep 10 at 0:33

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