Cooperation and organisation: the Contract of Les Verrières

In an accentuated scene in the Bourbaki Panorama, two gentlemen on horseback clasp hands. They are two generals. Apparently they are sealing the deal for the Bourbaki army to cross the border - there are almost 9,000 men, armed, in the immediate vicinity of the Swiss border. One only hears rumours about their allegedly emaciated condition. Although the symbolic representation is beautifully staged, the conclusion of the agreement is nevertheless very significant.

The two gentlemen in question are the French division chief Justin Clinchant and the commander-in-chief of the Swiss army, Hans Herzog. In fact, no hands were shaken: Hans Herzog handwrote a one-page treaty document in French and promptly sent it by messenger in the bitter cold of early February 1, 1871, to Justin Clinchant, who was waiting across the border on French soil. Only a short time before, he had asked Switzerland for asylum for the Eastern Army.[1]

An original of the treaty is now in the Federal Archives in Bern (see picture). The surrender of all war material represents the first and most important agreement: it was intended to secure Switzerland’s neutrality. Looking to the future, the agreement then states: France was to receive its war material back after peace had been concluded and the costs incurred had been paid. In the end it will be 12 million. The money flows quickly.

After the transfer, cantonal inspectors are responsible for the internees. The Military Department issues directives for guidance. Guarding, accommodation, food and pay are regulated by the cantonal war commissariats.[2]  The prisoners had to be in their quarters by eight o’clock in the evening, otherwise they had to keep themselves busy with their work. They were also encouraged to correspond with their relatives free of charge by correspondence card. The Sunday doctor’s visit by Swiss doctors was still obligatory.

Although the contract was the essential prerequisite for taking care of the arrivals, the help of countless civilians was more than necessary for the actual implementation. In the communities, people with charitable intentions gathered to organise gifts of love. In Muri (AG), an appeal encouraged people to make a contribution: according to information, “about 1,000 shirts and as many stockings or socks” were still missing. Shoes, boots and towels were also requested. After all, 105 shirts, 20 pairs of stockings, 70 pairs of socks, 23 pairs of shoes and boots and 68 towels were collected. Furthermore, in Muri the girls of all school classes gathered “for several days and half nights in their classrooms (...) in order to be able to deliver a nice number of brand new stockings and socks as gifts of love”. For Muri, the municipalities of the district are also noted: they range from 3 francs (Althäusern) to 247.80 francs (Muri).

[1] Justin Clinchant succeeded the war-tested and successful army commander Charles-Denis Bourbaki, after the latter had tried to end his life in the face of imminent defeat. Bourbaki’s ancestors came from Greece.

[2] Thus, 5/8 pounds of meat (312.5 grams), 1 ½ pounds (1250 grams) of bread and vegetables were charged daily per internee. For non-commissioned officers and soldiers there was a pay of 25 centimes.

Treaty of Les Verrières, 1 February 1871
Treaty of Les Verrières, 1 February 1871
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