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SO THERE’S THIS rough-talking politician. He has run an innovative campaign, even to dropping leaflets from an airplane and landing in the fields to speak to voters. He loses the election. Then, to quote the Chronicle of Aviation, “… a regiment of dragoons had to be called out to halt a riot in the streets ….”
Dragoons? Yes, the locale was Limoux, near Carcassone in the south of France. The year was 1912. And the loser was more than your average pol. He was Jules Védrines, a pioneer aviator who has already been celebrated here at SimanaitisSays for his second-place finish in the 1911 Circuit of Britain Air Race.
Continuing the Chronicle of Aviation citation: “Jules Védrines had lost an election to a local industrialist by just a few hundred votes, and his outraged supporters decided to take it out on the town, sacking the café of his opponents and generally running wild.”
Beating the Brits at their own aero game and vying for a seat in the French Parliament were only two of Védrines’ adventures. Others included disrupting a Lenten procession from on high, breaking 100 mph in the air for the first time, being tried for violating German airspace, pleasing a Turkish Sultan, refusing to duel with a competing aviator, challenging another to pistols at ten paces, flying clandestine missions during World War I and landing an aeroplane on the roof of a Paris department store.
In April 1911, Védrines dropped bouquets of violets from his aeroplane onto a Mi-carême procession as it entered Paris’s Place de la Concorde. Mi-carême, mid-Lenten Sunday, is the sole time during the Roman Catholic penitential season of Lent when priestly vestments of violet are replaced by rose-pink ones. Apparently Védrines preferred violets to roses.
In September 1912 Védrines flying a Deperdussin Monocoque was the first aviator to exceed 100 mph. Doing so, he won the James Gordon Bennett Cup, the event held that year in Chicago.
In 1913, Védrines’ Paris-to-Cairo adventure in a Blériot was complicated by his intention to fly over a portion of Germany. He tricked officials by taking off from Nancy, France, near the German border, heading west until out of sight of the aerodrome, then changing course for his flight over Germany to Prague. The Germans sentenced him to a year’s imprisonment, in absentia, so fat lot of good it did them.
Flying over Constantinople, Védrines dropped a Turkish flag onto the Imperial Palace, much to the delight of Mehmed V, the penultimate sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
On December 29, 1913, Védrines arrived in Heliopolis (site of Egypt’s first aviation meeting almost four years earlier). He promptly got into an argument with a Paris-to-Cairo rival, M. Roux, who challenged Védrines to a duel.
Védrines backed out of this, which got him into a tussle with M. Quiton, president of the French Ligue Aerienne, who told him to fight or get out of Cairo. Védrines chose the latter. However, upon returning to Paris, he challenged Quiton to pistols at ten paces. Paris newspapers had a heyday for several weeks, then officials of dueling protocol decided there was insufficient cause for bloodshed.
Thus, the Marquis de Dion retained the honor of participating in Paris’s last duel, fought with épées back in 1902.
During World War I, Védrines and his white Blériot XXXVIbis , nicknamed La Vache, The Cow, delivered and retrieved secret agents on more than 1000 missions behind enemy lines.
And, on January 19, 1919, he landed a Caudron C.3 on the roof of the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris. It won him a 25,000-franc prize (worth around $5000 back then; $70,000 in today’s dollar).
I like to think that, once he set down on the roof, Védrines said with his best Charles E. Stanton American accent, “Lafayette, we are here.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016