Monday, July 3, 2017

"Colonel Henry"

In the period of his autobiography surrounding the Paris Commune, Debosnys refers to himself as "Colonel Henry". Certainly he was not Lucien Henry, who was known as "Colonel Henry", and had been elected chief of the 14th arrondissement during the Paris Commune. Lucien Henry was banished to New Caledonia, but returned to France in 1891, where he died in 1896.

But a curious passage in La fond de la société sous la Commune (1873, pg 351 et seq) suggests that there was another "Colonel Henry". Like Debosnys, this other Colonel Henry fell afoul of the central committee of the Commune, but for different reasons than Debosnys claimed. Like Debosnys, this other Colonel Henry was captured by government forces when they took Paris, but where Colonel Henry was said to have been shot, Debosnys claims to have escaped execution.

Here is a translation of the story of Colonel Henry. Note that this work was compiled out of documents from the archives of the Justice Militaire, which accounts for the slightly odd flow of the narrative.


This Colonel Henry had been at first a judge at the court-martial, then a colonel residing at the military school, and the director of military training. The communal police were quite busy with him.

Information to the general and to Raoul Rigault:
It is asserted by Citizen Momnom (?), 7, Rue des Solitaires, that Colonel Henry, appointed a member of the court-martial, was hiding under this pseudonym, that his real name was Prodhomme, ex-treasurer of Guillochin, 64, Rue de Rennes (and this Guillochin would have well-founded and serious reproaches to make). It follows that, as a member of the court martial, its judgments would be tainted with invalidity; and further, dismissal by the court. 
Citizen Momnom (?) believed it his duty to point out this fact so that verification could be made, and he addressed this to the Central Committee. 
The Central Committee, afraid of finding a spy from Versailles under this false name, ordered an investigation. Rigault's police asked for at least a first name and a place of birth. Finally they succeeded in establishing this civilian status: Surname: Prodhomme; First name: Henri; Age: twenty-seven years; Place of birth: Versailles; Occupation: engineer; Home: Boulevard Haussmann, 74; (In 1869) he lived in Belgium. Outcome of the investigation: he made a request in 1869 to found a newspaper: American Tablet (International Gazette), a newspaper he would have to write in English.
On the back of the page, these lines were written in red pencil:
This is indeed the Henry Prodhomme that was sought; He concealed his name to keep a foothold in Versailles in the event of failure. 
-- Gâcher (?)
Information provided by Lavallette:

Was he the cashier of Guillochin? Was he an engineer? In any case, he was Prodhomme, as is proved by this letter written by his father:
Sunday Evening (May 21)
My very dear child, 
We were with Méliné to hear the concert of the Tuileries. Major Mayer was less rigid than you were with his officers, since he was there with his whole staff. 
It is tomorrow, Monday, that the concert of the Opera--or the grand presentation--is to take place. 
You promised a box to Méliné, and if you can get it for her, she will go with your mother and Louise. 
If it is nothing but a ballet, I'll go alone. 
In any case, I'll see you during the day to find out what I need to send you to get dressed. 
Don't forget to talk to the intendant Moreau if you see him before my visit. 
I love you much, 
Your father, 
Personal. Colonel Henry, Staff Commander at the Ministry of War, 82 Rue Saint-Dominique.
So this father, whose son called himself Colonel Henry, and who himself used this name with him, saw in the criminal usurpation of these high offices only an opportunity to get free tickets to a show. 

And this major, who attended the concert with his whole staff, while the troops of Versailles were breaking the ramparts of the Point du Jour at the gate of the Ternes, and an assault appeared imminent!

The day the father Prodhomme wrote to his beloved child, our soldiers entered Auteuil; The next day they were in Paris. The father Prodhomme could not go to the Opera. His son was taken, and, they say, shot; He himself, that type of Parisian hero who celebrated Henri Monnier, was arrested, and as Henry's father, fell ill and entered the hospital of Versailles. Has he left it? I like to think so. If he is alive, he weeps for his son, he curses destiny, he curses above all the government which overthrew the Commune, this good time of beautiful uniforms and concerts in the Tuileries. One day more, and he could have enjoyed the visit to the Opera which had been promised to him! Behold, the impression that would have been left upon him by these frightful times, and the only lesson he would have derived from it.

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