top of page
CGf Carousel1 129.jpg
CGf Carousel1 123.jpg


Jean-Marc Granget

Ensign of the Contingent

Former Sgtm Sapper

detachment leader

The history of the SAPEURS

The Infantry Sapper

The Infantry Sapper also named “Infantry Sapper of the Foot Grenadiers of the Guard”


Well before the Napoleonic epic, it was the famous Marshal Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707), a brilliant innovator in the art of defending and besieging strongholds, who called for the formation of the 1st Company of Sappers from 1668. First called “tool holder” then “axe carrying soldier”, there were 10 in each grenadier company. In the various campaigns led by France, against Austria among others in 1747, the need to have specialists on hand capable of clearing a path for the infantry through the obstacles erected by the enemy was proven. There were carpenter sappers, but also shooters who, in the vanguard, protected the workers. These were the “Engineer Companies” of today’s regiments and each platoon had its own group of sappers. In 1767, sappers were authorized to wear a particular hairstyle, a sort of cap with grenadier hair without a plate and less high.

Thus, and contrary to what popular belief suggests, the Infantry Sapper is not a butcher, even less an executor of dirty works on the battlefields.

Sapper Missions

Open access routes for infantrymen, destroy traps, make and set traps, obstacles to the march of enemy infantrymen. In fact, the sapper detachments left on missions well before dawn, so that the access routes would be freed when the infantrymen left, on foot, towards the battlefields.

Armament and equipment

Originally, infantry sappers carried weapons identical to that of infantrymen, namely the flint rifle, the bayonet and the "lighter" saber. Subsequently, they were relieved of the rifle and the lighter, in favor of weapons/tools more suited to their missions.

The sapper's ax

It was formerly used to break down wooden obstacles erected by the enemy. Originally, there were 6 with picks and 7 with hammers. The axes carried by our sappers of the contingent were forged on cantonal territory, more precisely in La Tour-de-Trême, by the blacksmith-tailmaker René Morand, now deceased. The origin of their particular shape is not determined, but it suggests that it was a shaped tool intended to facilitate, among other things, logging work.

The sapper's sword

A striking, thrusting and cutting weapon whose double-edged blade, or even one edge opposed to another saw-toothed one, was much more solid than that of the lighter saber, which was obviously not suitable for the missions of these soldiers elite.

Our sappers carry antique swords, dating from the Second Empire period (1852-1870), bearing a pommel known as a "singing cock's head", while the same swords, manufactured during the First Empire period (1804-1815), bore an eagle's head pommel. The blade is double-edged type, without sawtooth.

Leather apron

The most typical element, often called "Sapper's apron". It was a long skin apron, originally fawn in color, which could be rolled up with a hook. The apron was initially intended to protect the sappers from splinters of wood and to limit the risk of being ripped open on obstacles in the event of a fall.

The sappers initially only existed in times of war, but in 1780 it was decided to maintain them in times of peace. First made of tan leather, then black, the apron became white. The sleeves of the jacket bear a particular badge formed of 2 saltire axes.

We perhaps find in the following information one of the reasons why many think that the Sapeur is a butcher: Indeed, many Lyon specialties are based on pork or beef, including their offal and in particular tripe. . Among these, "Gras-double", a dish made with the membrane of the rumen, one of the four parts of the beef's stomach. The name "Sapper Apron", originally called "Gnafron Apron", comes from Marshal Boniface de Castellane (1788-1862), military governor of Lyon under Napoleon III (1808-1873). This fine gourmet and tripe lover whose famous “Gras-double” was a former engineer sapper. From then on, the sappers wearing leather aprons, the connection between the marshal, his apron and his immoderate taste for tripe would thus be at the origin of the popular belief.

Crisscross gloves

These white gloves with protective sleeves (crispins) were used to protect the hands and wrists during felling work.

The sleeve badge

Worn under the rank insignia, on the right sleeve, it represents two crossed axes, emblem of the function, of varying colors depending on the ranks:

  • - Gold axes on a plain black background for non-commissioned officers.

  • - Gold axes on a black background with gold edging for master corporals.

  • - Green axes on a black background with green edging for corporals and legionnaires.

Furry hat (or sea urchin/bear cub)

In terms of uniformology, the furry cap is in no way an evolution of the tricorn, the schako or even the colback. We see him appear within the French Guards under Louis XVI (1754-1793). It still existed under the Second Empire (see engraving showing the Imperial Guard leaving for Crimea). The primary benefit of the furry hat is to enhance the silhouette.
Also, at a time when beautiful clothes were not within the reach of the majority of people, wearing an expensive hairstyle (because fur was expensive) was an additional privilege which showed everyone that the person wearing it was a soldier of 'elite.

The sapper's beard

Since the pioneers attacked first, their life expectancy was very low. As a result, they had the right, when they went into battle, not to shave and returned bearded when they survived. Wearing a beard became compulsory in the Foreign Legion in 1842.

Sapper's Motto

“Sapper always ahead, in pain as in honor” takes its origin from the siege and the victorious battle of Danzig in 1807. On May 21, after 68 days of siege, the Prussian field marshal Friedrich Adolf von Kalckreuth (1737-1818 ) asks to capitulate. A few days later, Napoleon I (1769-1821) congratulated the engineers in these terms: "You have covered yourself with glory for your emperor and for the merits of your weapon", he said to the engineers of the 4th battalion. of engineers, and addressing Marshal François Joseph Lefebvre (1755-1820), he said to him "For my review, I want you to place the engineering battalions at the head of the troops and in front of the flags, and that we know why I order it'':

''The sappers march in the lead in the assault, so they will march in the lead in the city''

Lieutenant Jean-Marc Granget

Ensign of the Contingent

Former Sgtm Sapper detachment leader

CGf Carousel1 9.jpg
CGf Carousel1 80.jpg
bottom of page