Brest, a port city in western France sits on two hills divided by the Penfeld River. A magnificent road, the Rade de Brest, spans 14 miles (23 km) and is protected from the sea by the Quélern Peninsula, and the Goulet Passage (about 1–2 miles wide [1.5–3 km]) leads to open water.
Cardinal de Richelieu decided in 1631 to make it a major naval base. It was improved by Jean-Baptiste Colbert and fortified by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. The former instituted the Inscription Maritime, still functioning, which inducted Breton fishermen (18–48 years old) into the Naval Reserve. In exchange for this obligation, the Inscription offers them family security for life. Brest has been the seat of the French Naval Academy since 1830.
Brest was the debarkation point for U.S. troops during World War I. Afterward its importance as a naval and transatlantic passenger port increased. The Germans, who occupied it in June 1940, built concrete submarine pens and used the port as a base against Allied shipping. The city, almost completely destroyed during World War II, has been rebuilt, its port restored and re-equipped. The naval port, behind the Lanion breakwater, is in part excavated from the rock, and some of the installations are in deep caves in the cliffs. The commercial port, which has large shipfitting installations, is separated from the city by the Cours Dajot, an excellent promenade constructed on the old ramparts in 1769 by convicts from the notorious prison hulks of Brest (closed in the 19th century when Devil’s Island and the penal colony of French Guiana were established). It is, with Toulon, one of the two major bases of the French navy.
Benjamin Reginald Groom, born to Joseph Sanford Groom and Anna Cotton in 1897, joined the US Navy at some point during WWI. He was stationed on the U.S.S. Vermont and traveled to France where he purchased this postcard. Shown in the 1920 U.S. Census on line 84 he was only 22 years old when enumerated with the population of the U.S.S. Vermont.
Although he didn't address the postcard to anyone, it was found in his sister, Annie Mae Groom Stone's, belongings along with several other postcards he had purchased while serving overseas.
The back of the Brest postcard has his boyish handwriting in a brown ink. The words Imprimeries Reunies de Nancy is printed vertically on the far left side. I assume this means it was printed in the city of Nancy, France. The card is 5 1/4" x 3 1/4" and is a CARTE POSTALE. Webster's definition: a card on which a message may be sent by post, often with a picture on one side (a picture postcard).
"Here are some cards that I bought in France that may interest you. this is the Harbor where we anchored. I've been to this store twice."
The Festival of Postcards: Wheels has encouraged me to look for a second meaning to some of the images I have in my photo album. At first glance this card may not seem to belong to this May's challenge, but I see that a trolley or streetcar is waiting there on the ramp to access the Rade de Brest. I can imagine my ancestor, Reginald, catching the car along with some buddies from the U.S.S. Vermont and heading into the little town to shop. It must have been then when he purchased the postcard. At this, the close of WWI, the wheels of change were moving all around the busy Naval port and the whole of France, indeed the entire world.
Evelyn Yvonne Theriault is hosting this Festival of Postcards. She shares her Canadian Family’s Vintage Postcard Collection and encourages the use of postcards in the field of family history.
Source Information on Brest taken from: Brest. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 19, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/78900/Brest