Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The "oldest soldier of Europe"

Jean Thurel (or Jean Theurel; 6 September 1698 – 10 March 1807) was a fusilier of the French Army with an extraordinarily long career that spanned over 90 years of service in the Touraine Regiment. Having been born during the reign of Louis XIV and died during that of Napoleon I, Thurel lived in three different centuries and served three different monarchs.

Thurel was born in Orain, Burgundy. He enlisted on 17 September 1716 in the Régiment de Touraine, at the age of 18. He served there for over 90 years without interruption, under Louis XV, Louis XVI, the Republic and the Empire.

Thurel was severely wounded in battle on two occasions. In 1733, during the siege of Kehl, he was shot in the chest with a musket. At the battle of Minden in 1759, he received seven sword slashes, including six to the head. Three of his brothers were killed in the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. One of Thurel's sons was a corporal and a veteran in the same company; he died at the Battle of the Saintes, a naval battle that occurred on 12 April 1782 off the coast of Dominica, West Indies during the American campaign.

A well-disciplined soldier of the line infantry, Thurel was only admonished once during his entire career, during the 1747 Siege of Bergen as the French troops occupied the citadel. He was admonished because, the doors of the fortress being shut, he scaled its walls to gain entry so that he would not miss muster. Another example of Thurel's discipline and physical fitness occurred in 1787. When his regiment was ordered to march to the coast to embark on ships of the French Navy, he was given the opportunity to travel in a carriage due to his advanced age. The 88-year-old Thurel refused the offer and marched the entire distance on foot, stating that he had never before traveled by carriage and had no intention of doing so at that time.

On 26 October 1804, at the age of 106, Thurel became one of the first recipients of the newly established Ordre National de la Légion d'Honneur (National Order of the Legion of Honor), the highest decoration in France. Napoleon I also rewarded him with a pension of 1,200 francs. He was later appointed as the "oldest soldier of Europe". He remained healthy in body and spirit throughout his remarkably long life. He died in Tours on 10 March 1807, at the age of 108, after a brief illness.

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