LA GRANDE ARMEE

 


Retreat from Moscow



From 1811 on, every young man had to serve in the army. Registration of these conscripts took place when they were 18 years of age in the municipality where they living at that time. They were registered by the local authorities in the so-called "militia records" being registers of young men who qualified for the draft in a particular year. The records were judged by a military counsel for requests of exemption due to e.g. a handicap. As soon as it was known how many soldiers were needed, the conscripts were called up by the mayor for a lottery. This lottery served the purpose to determine who actually had to serve in the army and who would be dismissed. For those who were drafted, their lottery number was very important. The lower the number, the bigger the change that they had to serve.
The conscripts joined the army at the age of 20 and they were known as the National Militia. Till 1898 a conscript had the possibility to have himself replaced by someone else, called a "remplacant". Usually the sons of the upper class took the advantage of this opportunity. The agreement between the conscript and his replacement had to be confirmed by a notary public by means of a contract, including the amount they had agreed on as a "reward". The possiblity to have oneself replaced was skipped in 1898 in favor of the personal conscription.

The conscription was introduced in the Netherlands in the year 1811. At that time the Netherlands were part of the French empire. Napoleon Bonaparte had taken away the kingdom of Holland (1806 - 1810) from his brother Lodewijk Napoleon who opposed the conscription. And that was the end of his kingdom.
Before 1811 a ruler had to hire soldiers from countries like Germany or Switzerland to fight a war for him. The ruler who was willing to pay the most, got the best mercenaries. However, Napoleon didn’t have the money to hire soldiers and as an alternative simply introduced the conscription.

When Napoleon and his army (with ca. 15,000 Dutch soldiers) invaded Russia in the summer of 1812, the conscription was also felt in Friesland. Hundreds of young men had to show up for the lotteries. In general these lotteries were held at the Mairie (townhall) but sometimes at the local inn. In the latter case it may be assumed that the lucky ones who were dismissed downed a few to celebrate. Also the first contacts were often made with a candidate remplacant. The amount of money that was involved to pay the replacement varied quite a lot: anywhere between a couple of hundred to thousands of guilders.
Arranging a remplacant was subject to various conditions though. For example: the remplacant should not be a conscript himself, he had to be medically examined and had to present proof of good behaviour. If he was under age, his parents or guardian had to give permission or, in case he was married, his spouse.

It also happened that lottery numbers were exchanged meaning that a conscript with a low lottery number -with a considerable chance to serve in the army- could trade his number with someone with a high number providing that both were drafted in the same year and were living in the same canton (region). They were known as "nummerwisselaars". For these exchanges also, a contract was made up by a notary public. Nevertheless, both replacement and trading numbers did not release the initial conscript of his responsibility. If the hired hand did not pass the medical examination or deserted, the conscript had to show up or look for another remplacant or nummerwisselaar. Obviously it were especially the poor people who volunteered to be a remplacant or exchange a number.
Obviously some tried to get away from the lottery and hide. Not showing up at a lottery was considered by the French authorities to be similar to desertion. And if caught, such as a Jilke Postma from Balk, when he was tracked down by the French police, God have mercy! Jilke was handcuffed, tied behind a horse and dragged to their headquarters. Although he didn’t die in the army, he did not survive.

The call for cannon-fodder was loud. There even were 125 Frisian orphans, between 11 - 14 years of age, who were brought to Versailles to serve the regiment "Pupils of the Imperial Guard". This also happened to Douwe Dirks Sytsma, born in Ferwerd in 1790. He had already served as an orphan in an unknown regiment before the draft of 1810, maybe the afore mentioned regiment. By the way: all orphans of 16 years and older had to report for service in the army. Ironically it worked both ways: more soldiers and less expenses on orphans.

In the following overview you will find 121 names of conscripts -or the ones who replaced them- from Ferwerderadeel who served in the Napoleon’s army. It is almost certain that 44 did not return. They were killed in battle or died in a hospital due to wounds or a contagious disease. Others were reported missing which assumedly means the same. Several managed to survive and returned home but the fate of many others is unknown. Most likely they passed away abroad too.

Last but most certainly not least: the overview was sent in by J.A. Paasman from Tietjerksteradeel to whom we are most grateful for trusting us with it. We are sorry to remark that Mr. Paasman passed away some years ago. He did a lot of research on Frisians in the army of Napoleon. If you’d like to copy some data from the list don’t forget to give all the credit to Mr. Paasman and mention him as source. Thank you.
 
 

 To the overview


Other sources:
- " Fan Fryslâns ferline" by H. Twerda (1981)