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Festival of Postcards: Wheels of Change on the Rade de Brest

94 BREST Los Rampes d acces et la Rade

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:


Delia Furrer said…
I love the scene of the street car! Thanks for sharing.
Janice Tracy said…
What a neat postcard and story, Judy. You are so fortunate that your family members kept this piece of history.
Love the history connected with such a simple thing as a postcard. Your Reginald was one of the lucky ones to have escaped the influenza epidemic. My great-uncle Lawrence died in Nantes, France of the disease during World War I. Your post reminds me to look for the postcards Lawrence sent home before his death.
treeroots said…
Judith, this is a beautiful postcard, thanks for sharing!
amyrebba said…
Wonderful card and I loved the history attached to it. I assume from his note that this card was one of many. Maybe we'll see more of these? Great story.
Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I really enjoyed researching this card and had no idea of the history of Brest, France, until I started looking for a card to submit to Evelyn's Festival of Postcards! There are a few more of his cards but none with his writing on the back. I'll have to see where they fit it. Thanks, again, Delia, Janice, Mona, Kris, and Amy!
BeNotForgot said…
LUV the connection of your family history to the postcard for the WHEELS edition of A Festival of Postcards! One reason I participate in memes and carnivals and festivals is because it forces me to look outside the box -- because I ALWAYS try to make every post somehow connected to our family history. You did good!
Thank you, Vickie! I get lazy sometime, and the carnivals and memes do help get me started again. Glad you liked it.
footnoteMaven said…
Absolutely fantastic post!

Loved the card, the connection and the family information.

You're Good!

Thank you, fm! I'm so glad you liked it. I go over to your site and drool at all the beautiful photos and the great stories. You're an inspiration!
Elina said…
Thanks for the nice comment!
Brett Payne said…
Nice to see another Wheels submission with a tram/streetcar/trolley as the subject. Thanks for an interesting postcard, Judith. My first experience of trams was in Amsterdam as a teeneager, and then later in Vienna where they are still a very efficient and exciting way to see the old city. I see they even have a tramway museum.

There appears to be quite a range of watercraft shown - apart from the large number of warships (and I can never differentiate between the types), I think I can spot a tug (the dark one with a very thick funnel), a large and a small yacht, numerous small boats, and an old large three masted sailing ship at the far right.
Sheila said…
I love old postcards with a history, and even better that they have a family connection. We tried to visit Brest a while ago when in the area on holiday. It's a vast sprawl and we didn't have GPS at the time, it started to pour with rain, so I'm sorry to say we gave up.
papel1 said…
Interesting perspective on "wheels" Thanks for stopping by my blog. From one Judy to another!
Kay Cox said…
Thanks for the post, Judy. I never remember seeing it. I suppose it must have lain in Granny Stone's bureau drawer for years. Thanks for seeking it out and bringing it to light.
You're very welcome, Elina! I love your blog.

Brett, thanks so much for your comments. I really did enjoy reading your post in this Festival. I thought all of the history you had about your card and the group of trams/streetcars/trolleys you had was fascinating.

I'm glad you enlarged the photo to see the ships in the harbor at Brest! I imagined I could see Reginald's U.S.S. Vermont there. Can't wait til we see the variety of postcards submitted at the next festival with emphasis on "main street".
Sheila, glad my postcard brought back a few memories of Brest for you. Too bad you couldn't see more of the city.

And, Judy, so glad you stopped by. Love your blog of postcards!

LK, it's amazing what we find in all those dresser drawers isn't it? Hope you liked the treatment of your Uncle Reginald. I enjoyed writing about him. I have his picture coming up next!

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