from 'The War Illustrated' 25th June, 1916
'Mme. Joffre at Home in War-Time'
by Marc Loge and H. Du Taillis

Some Personal Impressions

Madame Joffre in her home


Some Personal Impressions of a Visit to the Devoted Wife of the Great French Generalissimo

During these critical days, when the virtue of self-sacrifice is demanded, not of a few individuals but of whole nationalities of mankind, the influence of womanhood on the conduct of great work is of immense importance. Thus very deep interest attaches now to Mme. Joffre, wife of the man to whom, is confided the destiny of France, The charming, modest consort of the great Generalissimo has played a fine part in the war of liberation. In the following biographical sketch two well-known French women-writers, Mmes. du Taillis and Marc Loge, give its a delightful interpretation of the character, work, and home interests of Mme. Joffre, "a soldier's wife who counts."

MADAME JOFFRE affirms far too modestly that a "soldier's wife does not count." Since the beginning of the war, however, public opinion has not shared this sentiment, judging by the tenacity with which it pursues her la order to become more intimately acquainted' with her every action. If, for the last eighteen months the attention of the world has been riveted on (jrfmeral Joffre, as -being the man to whom France and her Allies have confided their greatest destinies, Madame Joffre has not escaped from national curiosity and sympathy. No doubt she occasionally finds rather irksome the patriotic homage thus so naively rendered to her, for, to use her own rxpression, many people stare at her as if she were "nne bctc curieuse.! " She leads a most discreet, retired life, ;md even goes so far as to experience certain scruples about the popularity her husband's name attracts to her.

Madame Joffre is a Parisian born. Her fatter, M. Penon, Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, was a celebrated art collector who inculcated in his daughter the love of beautiful things, a love which she has ever retained. She was first entrusted to the care of English governesses, and later she went to England to perfect herself in the language. Then, later still, she was sent to Germany, where she also spent two years.


the Joffre's dining-room and salon


Happy Home Life at Auteuil

Madame Joffre met her future husband many years ago, when she was hardly out of her teens, and he merely a young officer with little or no fortune, but it was only ten years ago that they were able to realise their life-long desire of uniting their lives. Madame Joffre's father refused to consent to the marriage of his daughter with a young officer whose future appeared so very uncertain. At. last both young people listened to reason, and each married somebody else, thus apparently renouncing their dearest hopes. The gods, however, had decided otherwise. Six months after his wedding General Joffre's first wife died, and ten years ago Madame Joffre became free to marry again, and the romance sketched so long before [was at last happily concluded.

Madame Joffre possesses to the highest degree that rare and marvellous faculty of allowing one to catch a glimpse only of the glowing, radiant side of her nature. When pained or grieved she excels in dissimulating her anxiety and sorrow. Her greatest charm is to be happy — or, at least, to appear so. And General Joffre, so wrongly endowed with a reputation of taciturnity, has exclaimed more than once : "How unhappy I should be if I had a sad companion !"

Madame Joffre is simple, natural; and cheerful. She dresses with great sobriety, and the "pre-war" styles did not appeal to her at all. She loves her home, and cares very little for Society. Her greatest delight is to spoil her husband, who allows her to do so with much good grace. In time of peace the General works at the French War Office from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Once his daily task is accomplished he hastens back to his home in the Rue Michel-Ange, at Auteuil. This dwelling is both simple and spacious. In the large, airy rooms, many flowers strike a cheerful note, lighting up the fine old furniture. In the: drawing-room a bust of Madame Joffre, due to the chisel of Madame A. Bisson, seems to bid one welcome. On the walls hang some pictures, remembrances of her father and of a dearly loved brother. A few tapestries and some bronzes complete the decoration of the General's home, while in the smoking-room, in a prominent place, stands the autograph portrait of the Grand Duke Nicholas, given by the Russian Commander-in- Chief to his French colleague. A small garden surrounds this quiet home, and when no greater duties claim his time the General devotes much care to the fruit trees, which certainly produce each year at least thirty prunes, seven pears, and three apricots !

Madame Joffre takes care always to be at home to welcome her husband on his return from his daily work. If the General expresses the desire to hear a little music to relax' his mind, she willingly takes her seat at the piano. She is an excellent musician, and though now she believes that Wagner is banished for long from the French stage, she deems that Mozart and Beethoven belong to humanity. Or, perhaps, her husband prefers her to read aloud, in that case she opens his favourite book of the moment. Or does he simply wish to chat ? He finds his wife attentive and prompt with ready retort. And when the General merely wishes to enjoy a good dinner — he is a "fin gourmet" — Madame Joffre takes keen pleasure in herself preparing his favourite dishes. In short, she is a very devoted wife indeed. The only point on which they are apt to disagree is the question ot early rising. When at home, General Joffre insists that everybody should be up at seven o'clock each morning. And no doubt, since the war, Madame Joffre and her unmarried daughter (who lives with them and who adores her step-father) have modified their rising hour.

Travelling has always been one of the greatest pleasures of General Joffre and his wife. They have made many journeys, but their most delightful remembrances are connected with their trip to Russia, whither the General had been sent on a mission. Madame Joffre travelled separately and was received as a friend by the Grand Duchess Anastasia, with whom she spent a month. One of her most cherished possessions is a magnificent album, in which the Grand Duke Nicholas, now Commander-in-Chief of the Caucasus Armies, had collected photographs commemorating the principal episodes of her stay in Russia. One day, as her husband was about to start on some inspection connected with his official mission, she found .before her seat at the ducal table the photograph of her husband, while the Grand Duke Nicholas said to her teasingly : "I take your husband so often away from you, madame, that it is only right that I should at least leave you his image !"

Madame Joffre's Self-Denial

Before war broke out Madame Joffre had never been separated from her husband since their marriage ten years ago. The glory of being the wife of the first "mobilisé" of France did not lessen her sorrow at this separation. Her self-denial deserves to be praised, for she has never been, and never will go, to the General Headquarters. Yet who could do so more easily — who could wish it more ardently ? The example of discipline, however, should come from above, and Madame Joffre submits herself to it just as the most humble of French-women. During the first weeks of the gigantic struggle her letters, posted just like any others, were not delivered with more swiftness or regularity. At last, in order to spare the Commander-in-Chief of the French Armies this unnecessary domestic anxiety, it was decided that Madame Joffre should be authorised to send and receive her correspondence by means of the military motors running between the General Headquarters and the Government.



“Madame la Generalissime"

When the French Government left Paris for Bordeaux in those crucial days of September, 1914, Madame Joffre settled herself at Royan with her family. The road leading to her villa soon became, familiar to the wounded soldiers who, having recovered from their injuries, were about to return to the trenches. To each of these she gave a package and, when necessary, some money. If one happens to say in her hearing that "they" lack some object or other on some part of the front, Madame Joffre immediately undertakes to send them whatever they most need, however great an effort it may cost her. And it is said that a wild enthusiasm reigns is the trenches when the contents of a package bearing the card of "la Generale Joffre " are distributed amongst the " Poitus."

Madame Joffre has received many curious and picturesque letters, all most touching on account of the confidence and sincerity they express. A "bleu" (a soldier of the youngest classes) sends his "love”. Another who is prisoner in Germany, asks her to find his parents for him. He addressed his letter to " Madame la Generalissime, en France," and, though forwarded from Germany, it reached her safely. She Often receives letters from old mothers and young wives, who all request her to intercede in behalf of "le cher enfant," or "le cher mari," so that he may obtain a few days leave, which would give them such joy.

The gratitude of these poor people often assumes the most unexpected forms. Some good peasant women, whose sons she had nursed at the hospital of Royan, sent her one day a gift of fresh eggs. And on January 1st, 1915, she received a box decorated with tricolour ribbons, and which contained a scarf-pin for the General. That pin is certainly, worth fifty centimes at the least !

Amongst the many candid letters which Madame Joffre has received, here is one which may possibly interest our younger readers. It came from Montferrand : “General, — Grandsons of a "Lorrain" who followed the campaign of 1870 as a volunteer, at the age of eighteen, but too little as yet to defend our dear Fatherland, arms in hand, our small hearts are simply overflowing with the patriotic sentiments which animate the courage of our dear soldiers, amongst whom is our dear papa.

We beg you, General, to accept this small Christmas remembrance sent to you by three true little French boys. They have emptied their savings-box in order to prove you their gratitude for the great work of the liberation of French territory and of Alsace-Lorraine, which you are pursuing with so much success. On Christmas Day we shall address a prayer to the petit Jesus, so that He may bless you and keep you in good health to accomplish your great task.

Please receive, General, the patriotic wishes of three little French boys — three future soldiers. — Georges Prival, aged 8, Jean Bonnefond, aged 8, Louis Prival, aged 6.

Since her return to Paris, Madame Joffre consecrates all her time in helping her husband's "men". She is at the head of at least ten relief funds or aid committees ; her house is littered with socks, scarves., mufflers, piles of cigarettes, provisions of all kinds. All these “comforts" are packed under her supervision and sent to the firing-line. Intellectual occupations and manual work help her to bear the tension and anxiety of waiting, while her every thought, her every heartbeat, are with those who are fighting with him who is leading them to Victory.


the Joffre's going for a carriage ride


Dreaming of the Days to Be

Madame Joffre often spends long hours in the houseboat, anchored just out of Paris, at Bougival, in which her husband and she intend to travel, after the war, slowly along the winding rivers and quiet canals of France — of France tranquil in the thought of her victorious independence. They will take advantage of the peace and quiet; they will at last enjoy to write their memoirs. At present, however, Madame Joffre thinks only of the joy which will be, hers when, after the dearly-won success, of which she has never doubted, the great chief will at last return. No doubt she already imagines the pride, the sweetness of their reunion when, in the flag-decorated streets, the very mourning veils will flutter like banners. And it is said that one day, as she was speaking of the victorious return of our soldiers, she cried out :

"What a pity I shall be obliged to sit in the official tribune. I should so much prefer to climb a tree of the Champs Elysées to see my General pass !"


a view of the drawing-room of the Joffre's house in Auteil

see also : Marshall Joffre - a British View at the Outbreak of War

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