Modern Day, WW1

How did a Heavy Metal Song Popularize a French WW1 Hero?

A war hero is gaining popularity because of a 3d-animated clip. Well, that is something that we don’t hear every day. But that is precisely what happened when Sabaton – a Swedish heavy metal band – released a song honouring Albert Séverin Roche.

Norbert Perrin, mayor of Réauville (Roche’s hometown), expressed that the song has significantly increased public interest. So how did Roche go from being an outcast to becoming “The First Soldier of France” to a 3d-animated clip for a video.

This is the story of Albert Séverin Roche.

Who was Albert Séverin Roche?

Albert Séverin Roche (1895–1939) is no less than a legend in France. Born on 5 March 1895 in a family of modest farmers, Albert was the third son of Séverin Roche and Louise Savel. In 1913, the selection board of the French Army rejected him, thinking he was too puny to fight. Little did they know Albert was destined for greatness.

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Despite his initial rejection by the French Army, his father seemed happy. “We need arms to run the farm,” said Séverin Roche. However, Albert knew he had to fight. In August 1914, he packed his things and ran away – leaving the farm behind.

Albert Séverin Roche
Albert Séverin Roche. The ‘Blue Devil’ once crawled for six hours under fire to reach his wounded captain

Albert reported to another district where the Allan training camp sent him to the 30th Battalion of Chasseurs. Still, he had a long way to go. Albert was assessed poorly and treated horribly by his peers. He was an outcast. 

But we all know how the saying goes: a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

One day Albert had enough, and he left the camp. Soon after, he was arrested for desertion. The man explained that he was not a deserter and had just one thing to say “I want to go where we fight.” On 3 July 1915, he was sent to the 27th Battalion of Chasseurs Alpins. 

The Blue Devil

The 27th Battalion of Chasseurs Alpins was nicknamed the “blue devils” by the Germans. This was the beginning of Albert’s journey that earned him the title of “The First Soldier of France.” 

In one instance, Albert volunteered to take out a German blockhouse. After creeping behind the enemy lines, he found that German soldiers were pressed against a wood stove to stay warm. The fearless soldier ingeniously threw a handful of grenades down the chimney, leading to several kills. 

That day, Albert returned to his base with 8 German prisoners. 

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In another battle, Albert was the only soldier left standing in a trench in Sudel, Alsace. With the enemy advancing, Albert fired his dead comrades’ guns when he ran out of ammo. Thinking that the resistance was still standing strong, the Germans gave up their attack. Albert survived.

The many tales of Albert Séverin Roche do not end there though. The French soldier was once captured on a recon mission with a fellow soldier. The story goes that Albert managed to overwhelm and kill his interrogator. Not only did he return back to the French lines carrying his wounded comrade, but he also brought 32 other French prisoners along with him.

Albert needed a miracle

Perhaps Albert’s most notable feat is rescuing his wounded captain at the battle of Chemin des Dames. The wounded captain had fallen in the line of fire. The Blue Devil crawled for six hours under fire to reach his captain and then crawled another four to take him to safety. 

Albert Séverin Roche
Roche personally captured an astonishing 1,180 German prisoners.

Exhausted, he fell asleep in a guard hole only to be awakened by a patrol unit that mistook him for sleeping on duty. The crime of abandoning the post was punishable by death within 24 hours. Despite his denial, he was thrown into a detention barrack, where he wrote to his father:

“In an hour, I shall be shot, but I assure you that I am innocent.”

On his way to the firing squad, Albert needed a miracle. And that is what he got. His captain woke up from his coma and testified for his innocence. The man lived to see another day.

Honouring Roche

The French war hero personally captured an astonishing 1,180 German prisoners. By the end of the war, at 23, he had achieved more than any other French soldier.

Albert Séverin Roche has been immortalised in song by Heavy Metal group Sabaton. (Photo Sabaton official site)

General Ferdinand Foch, rightfully so, nicknamed him The First Soldier of France. In his service, Albert earned Officier de la Légion d’honneur, Médaille Militaire, Croix du combattant volontaire, and the Croix de Guerre. The war hero died in a bus accident at the age of 44. 

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“This man had gone through four years of war, he had been wounded nine times, he had been close to death a thousand times, Almost unjustly shot as a mutineer. He had escaped all dangers, all accidents. All of this to be killed twenty years later, on his way home, on the descent of the bus,” wrote Editions Pluriel.

On 10 February 2023, Sabaton released a song to honour the war hero. No doubt that even a century later, people still sing songs about Albert Séverin Roche. His memory is one that will never fade. Albert proved that he was a true hero and son of France.