Les Américains À Tours 1917 – 1919


When I had the privilege of visiting Tours last year, I received a copy of “Les Américains À Tours 1917 – 1919,” a book about when Americans were in our sister city during World War I. As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the great war, we will not forget the sacrifices both French and American soldiers made for those who came after them. The following are excerpts from this book. Learn more about purchasing your own copy by visiting the publisher’s website.

After President Wilson’s address to the Senate on April 2, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany four days later on April 6. This decision was received with great enthusiasm by the Allies who were filled with renewed hope of victory in the not too distant future. The City of Tours was by no means immune to this happy turn of events, celebrating by decking itself out in the colors of the stars and stripes.

Opened in October 1915, the Tours-Parcay-Meslay airfield welcomed its first US aviators on July 8, 1917. It was very busy training observation pilots, observers and photographers in particular. At the turn of 1918, eight squadrons and 1,089 servicemen were stationed there.

In January 1918, General Pershing decided to centralize in Tours all the administrative units backing up the troops in action. All of these units were merged into one department called “Services of Supply” on March 13, 1918. More than 2,000 Americans subsequently descended on the city to run this mammoth logistics operation. This supply corps set up several workshops across industrial sites, not least those of the Paris-Orleans rail company, in Tours and Saint-Pierre-de-Corps. A whole host of specialties were carried out in these workshops, but most were tasked with making and mending uniforms. This hive of activity relied on extra help from the local civilian workforce, which in turn brought additional jobs for the city’s economy. From January 1918 to September 1919, Tours served as the general headquarters on the home front for the US Army, becoming, for a time, the capital of the United States in France.

Community ties blossomed between the Americans and the Tours population especially through charities contributing to the war effort. The most prominent was the Red Cross, which proved steadfast in its offer of care and solace to Allied soldiers and generous donations of money to their families. It had a base in Tours from October 1917 to January 1919 and was assisted by the YMCA.

Despite the language barrier, the Americans and the local population engaged increasingly with each other, growing accustomed over time to the intermingling of two cultures. During World War I, the values of American civilization were mainly conveyed through the movies, but what really brought the two communities together more than anything else was music. American musicians introduced the Tours population to a new upbeat and lively musical genre that proved a real hit: jazz. The US soldiers also showcased their ideals through sport, inviting the locals to the major contests they organized and sharing such new disciplines with them as baseball. For the Americans, their time in Tours gave them an insight into the French lifestyle, prominent figures that have gone down in history, the royal chateaux and French cuisine.

The signature of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 heralded the US troops departure from Tours, which happened relatively discreetly and in stages. No official ceremony was held to see them off. Their brief stint in Tours nevertheless left a legacy of invaluable technical improvements in terms of communications, hygiene and water supply.

Through a great many accounts that conveyed a sense of warmth they all shared, Tours and its population expressed wholehearted gratitude to the Americans. On July 4, 1918, the municipality of Tours celebrated Independence Day in grandiose style. The naming of the stone bridge after US President Wilson, voted on by the Municipal Council on August 13, 1918, was a further sign of the city’s fond memories. But the most prominent gesture of friendship came in the form of a monument, shaped like a fountain, in remembrance of the US logistical organization in Tours. Dedicated in 1925, it was finally inaugurated on August 5, 1937. Later, the city of Tours would endeavor to cement its cultural affinities and ties of friendship with America. In 1960, Stanford University opened a campus in Tours and in 1991 the city of Tours signed a twinning agreement with Minneapolis.

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Notes from our sister city

Post its“Bienvenue en Touraine – Vive L’Amerique!” read one of the notes from an attendee to the Minnesota exhibit at the Foire de Tours in May. As the home to 3M, the inventor of post-it notes, Minneapolis and Tours Sister Cities members came up with an idea to ask our French friends to send greetings on multi-colored sticky notes to those “across the pond” in the North Star state. “Minneapolis – une ville magique et ouverte – J’y ai des amis qui me sont chere. Belle initiative!” (Minneapolis, a magical and open city, I have friends there who are dear to me. Nice initiative!”)

Most contained simple greetings in both French and English and many were signed “Bisous” which is a French expression used to end a note meaning “kisses.” “Quel plaisir de connaître votre pays” read one – “What a pleasure to know your country.” Others mentioned how much they enjoyed viewing the exhibit, which showcased aspects of Minnesota life.

“Felicitations! Superbe exposition – tres bon sejour.” (Congratulations, superb exhibit – a very good day.) This one was signed from Xavier and Valerie with the date 9/5/2017, which represented one of the days the exhibit was open (5/9 to Americans as the French style of representing dates is listed with the day first instead of the month).

Some included predictions (“Hi guys, I’m the future French president”) and some referenced cultural aspects of Minnesota (“Prince forever!” read one and “My brother loves the Timberwolves, sorry I prefer the Utah Jazz” read another). And yes, some of them were political. “Bienvenue en France! Vive les USA sauf Trump. Bisous!” (Welcome to France, Long live the United States except Trump, Kisses!”)

But one reminds anyone from either Tours or Minneapolis of the long history our countries share – “Lafayette came to America and America came to France. I was born near Omaha Beach. I thank the soldiers and their families so much. My heart bleeds and I am forever grateful. Peace and love all over the world.” It was signed simply “L.M.”

Hundreds of greetings were collected and showcased at Sister Cities Day in Minneapolis after the Foire, a colorful example of an expression of friendship that will not soon be forgotten.

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A French Civics Lesson

By Ed Coughlin, Former Minneapolis and Tours Sister Cities Board Member

Replacing a mayor without calling a special election


Holding More Than One Elective Office  

The sitting mayor of Tours, Serge Babary, was elected to the Senate at the end of September with official results being declared at the beginning of October.  Until this year, a mayor could be both senator and mayor at the same time.  A new law took effect this year requiring a mayor to step down as city executive in order to serve as senator.  He or she may still remain on the city council but cannot serve as mayor.   Therefore, Serge Babary announced his resignation resulting in the calling of a special session of the city council to vote for a new mayor within 15 days. During that period, the First Adjoint (vice-mayor), Jacques Chevtchenko, assumed the duties as mayor.

Size of a City Council

Unlike the United States where each community has its own city charter which sets forth how the community will be governed, France has specific rules that apply to all communities based on population.  Only Paris, Marseille and Lyon have exceptions to those rules.

Tours, with 135,000 inhabitants, must have a 55-seat city council.

The mayor is one of those 55 members and elected to the office of mayor at the first session of a new city council.  In addition to the mayor, there are vice-mayors called “adjoints” who are delegated specific duties in areas such as public safety, education, culture, parks & gardens, etc.  Here each city is allowed discretion in determining the number of its “adjoints”, not to exceed 30% of the council. Tours has voted to have 16 adjoints…not counting an additional five with neighborhood related duties.


Municipal elections took place throughout France in 2014 with the next elections set for 2020 (but they may be postponed until 2021).

Voters must select from among slates of candidates referred to in French as listes.  There are 55 names on each liste with the top name presumed to be a candidate for mayor. The seats on the city council are filled on a proportional basis by those named on any listes with more than 5% of the vote in the deciding round of the election.  Names on each liste must alternate by gender and the seats are filled starting with the top of the liste.

Under the proportional method used to fill the council seats, the liste with the most votes in the deciding round of the election will get well more than one-half the seats, providing the mayor with a governing “majority” and severely limiting the role of the “opposition.” The group in power are referred to as La Majorité since the mayor and that group should be able to call the shots if they remain united.

The 2014 election in Tours as an illustration of how the process works

Since this article is about replacing a mayor, I’ll skip over some of the details of municipal elections.

Voters in the first round of the election selected from among nine pre-printed listes, inserting just one into the envelope which would be cast into the ballot box.  Any changes to the 55 names on the pre-printed liste would invalidate the ballot.  There is no such concept as splitting a ticket.

After the first round, no one liste received an absolute majority. Four listes were eligible to move into the second round the following Sunday (a relatively rare occurrence).  Before the second round, on Monday and Tuesday, the liste of the incumbent Socialist mayor, Jean Germain, merged with a liste from the Green Party in order to improve their electability.  Voters had three listes to choose from in the second round.

In the second round, the liste with the most votes is the winner.  A majority is not required.  Any liste with more than 5% of the vote is entitled to share in the seats on the council.  I suppose you could say that there are Silver and Bronze medals.

Serge Babary ran on a liste which presented a united front from the outset. He is a member of the LR Party (formerly the UMP party of both Chirac and Sarkozy) and he partnered with members of the more centrist UDI Party.  They wanted one consistent message throughout the entire campaign and avoid splitting their base of support against what was considered by many to be the invincible liste headed by Jean Germain.  The last-minute merger between Jean Germain’s primarily Socialist (PS) liste and the Green Party liste did not achieve its desired result. They came in second with the Front National gaining enough votes to garner two seats on the council.

The actual results were as follows:

Head of Liste           Parties                           Votes                       %                  Seats

Serge Babary          UMP-UDI                       20,770                   49.75                  42

Jean Germain        PS-PCF-EELV-MoDem  17,398                   41.67                  11

Gilles Godefroy      FN                                  3,576                      8.56                    2

Although the leading listes both won over 40% of the vote, and despite the fact that the top vote getter did not get an outright majority, the modified proportional allocation formula gave 42 of the 55 seats to the liste led by Serge Babary (LR).

In order to ensure that the leading liste has a secure majority there is a two-step process in the calculation.  The first step gave a majority of 28 seats (50% +1) to the first-place finisher. The second step allocated the remaining seats as a proportion of the vote totals.  This gave an additional 14 seats to the leading ticket.   Clearly the system is designed to give the first-place liste a substantial Majorité.

When the city council meets for the first time, the entire council votes for the new mayor.  With 42 votes, there is little doubt about who will win.

The next step is to vote on the number of Adjoint positions to create and then take a vote on filling them.  When the listes were being drawn up, discussions took place about who would serve where in the city government.  The jockeying for position should have ended before the liste became public.   The top names on the liste of the Majorité (except for the number two name, Sophie Auconie, who was serving in the European Parliament) were elected by the council to fill the adjoint positions.  The structure of the listes assures gender equality so that you would expect eight men and eight women to be adjoints or adjointes.  There were no surprises.  With 42 votes and fresh from a victory, the result was assured.


Listes do not disappear.  Until the next general election, they continue to be the resource used to fill seats in case of vacancy. If vacancies occur, whether due to illness, death, moving to a new city, etc., they are filled by the next names on the respective liste.  For example, if one of the two FN seats were to become vacant, it would be filled from the FN liste from 2014 in the order that the names appeared.  The Majorité could not gobble up a seat from the FN.  The FN has two seats until the next general election.


The new mayor is selected by a vote of a special session of the city council.  It should, in theory, fall to the Majorité to select its candidate to replace the mayor, and, with 42 votes, there should be no surprises.

In Tours, the Majorité formulated a procedure for selecting its candidate and all the members signed onto it.  Individuals could nominate themselves prior to what looked like a papal conclave (no cell phones and no reporters inside the room).

Each candidate would give a 15-minute presentation (which was modified to 30 minutes).  Candidates could not be present during the other candidates’ presentations.  That was followed by a first round secret ballot.  If no one got a majority there would be a second round where the leading candidate (in the case of three or more) would win.  If two candidates had the same number of votes, the older of the two would be selected.

In Tours, Christophe Bouchet and Xavier Dateu ran for the office.  Thibault Coulon withdrew from consideration and never formally entered the race.  Since Dateu was touted as the frontrunner, Coulon was perceived as throwing his support in favor of Bouchet.   The results of both rounds of voting were 20-20 with two abstentions.  Bouchet was the older of the two and declared the winner.


The evening before the special session of the city council, Xavier Dateu announced that he was going to put himself forward as a candidate.  There was some confusion in his mind over whether there should have been a third round prior to going to the “tie-breaker.”    That led to much speculation over the internal discipline of the Majorité and even whether there would be mass resignations.


There were no significant surprises.


Both names were put before the city council.  The spokesperson for the Left announced that they would abstain from voting since they believed that the process was flawed and that there should have been a special election called to put the question before the citizens.

Whereas one would have expected “the system” to produce 42 votes in favor of one candidate (Serge Babary would still have a vote since he has kept his seat on the council) the results of the secret ballot were as follows:

Christophe Bouchet                  30

Xavier Dateu                              15

Abstentions                                10

The Majorité did not line up squarely behind their candidate.  He only got 30 of 42 votes but enough to easily win the election.

Since there was a total of 45 votes cast for one of the two candidates, the winner needed a majority of 23.  Christophe Bouchet was voted in as mayor.

At that point he presided over the special session, taking over from the most senior (age) member of the council who was the opening presider.


On a show of hands, the number of adjoints was fixed at 16 (no change in number).

A new liste of candidates for adjoint was provided to the council members (prepared in advance by Christophe Bouchet) and it was approved by secret ballot.

The specific functions of each adjoint are not determined by a council vote but announced later in the week.


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Minnesota Stars at the Foire de Tours


The entrance to the Minnesota tent at the Foire de Tours

In May, nearly 100 Minnesotans traveled to Tours, Minneapolis’s sister city in France, to showcase the north star state at their regional exhibition called the Foire de Tours. Each year, the Foire, a ten day event, selects a region or country to feature as part of its fairgrounds. Minnesota was invited this year as 2017 commemorates the 100th anniversary of the American arrival in France during World War I.

In addition to the exhibition space which highlighted aspects of Midwestern life from archival photos from the Minnesota Historical Society to music from Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current, the Foire also featured gastronomic specialties from Minnesotan Sean Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and known as the “Sioux Chef.” Members of the official delegation from Minneapolis were treated to


Salade Amerindienne

Salade Amerindienne (Native American Salad) which featured mixed greens, roast turkey, maple squash, corn, green beans, toasted seeds and honey dressing.

A non-alcoholic drink named after Minnesota’s baseball team, the Twins, featured orange juice, bananas, pressed lime and Grenadine. While walking through the Foire, a member of the Minneapolis delegation was approached by a high school student from Tours who had studied in the city of lakes. When asked how he liked Minnesota he simply replied, “It wasn’t very French.”

For our first night in Tours, we were invited to the opening of an exhibition at the Chateau de Tours featuring nearly 50 World War I posters on loan from the Weisman Art Museum. Afterward, we headed to City Hall for the opening of La Presence des Americains a Tours 1917-1919, which highlighted the role the city played as a supply base during the epic conflict then known as “The Great War.”


The city hall of Tours, an official polling place for their presidential election

As the city hall served as an official poling place for their presidential election, we were granted special access to observe their election day process. Leading up to the vote, residents were noticeably nervous about the outcome, with one remarking to me, “Well, we’re all just praying for Sunday.” On Sunday evening, we joined approximately 100 people in the main room at city hall where results were coming in on a big screen television. A cheer and audible sigh of relief went up as the crowd was made aware of the victory of Emmanuel Macron, the youngest man ever elected to the French presidency.

At the Cimetiere la Salle, we inaugurated a memorial dedicated to the American


Members of the Minneapolis delegation joined French dignitaries in honoring those lost during World War I

soldiers who lost their lives while serving in France from 1917-1919. This solemn occasion also lent itself to a humorous, “lost in translation” moment – next to the seating for local citizens and veterans, members of the Minneapolis delegation were placed in a section titled “Personalities.”

Of course, being in France meant the wine flowed freely and we enjoyed many whites and reds from the nearby Loire Valley. When I remarked to one of our hosts from Tours that the wine was amazing, he simply looked at the bottle and replied, “Oh yes, that was a good year.” As an American, I felt honored that they celebrated our visit by cracking open one of the best varieties of their regional specialties.

As any trip to France does, it ended much too soon. While we said our goodbyes and merci beaucoup to our friends from across the ocean we renewed a commitment to our shared history and the values that transcend boundaries and define us both.

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Foire de Tours highlights indigenous cuisine and the creations of award-winning chef Sean Sherman

150117_SeanSiouxChef-450x450The Foire de Tours, a regional exhibition showcasing Minnesota in our sister city from May 5-14, will feature gastronomic delights from Minneapolis-based chef Sean Sherman. Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and founder of the company The Sioux Chef, recently took some time to give us a sneak preview of what attendees can expect.

You have traveled to Europe – have you been to France and/or Tours?  

I have been to Europe a few times, back when I was younger, and just this last fall for the Slow Foods Terra Madre in Italy. My partner, Dana, has an exchange family in Nice, so we stopped there on our way home and had a lovely time. I have not yet been to Tours.

What interested you in participating in the Foire de Tours?

The team from Meet Minneapolis introduced us to the sister city relationship and the Foire de Tours and told us that they wanted to showcase some of the interesting culture here. I love the idea of sharing the bounty of each culture with people from a very different region. I also understand that many French are interested in learning more about Native American history, so I hope that we can show France what we have been doing!

What can attendees expect to see on your menu?

We hope to showcase some of the foods that are produced in our state like hand harvested wild rice and Red Lake walleye. We’ll have a Matt’s style burger and normally our team doesn’t use any wheat flour, dairy or refined sugars but we are incorporating some current Minnesota staples like apple and blueberry pies.

One of the hot trends that the French are masters at is not just having food that tastes good, but also the presentation and “art” of making something look good on the plate (sometimes it almost looks too good to eat). As a chef, you not only have to be a good cook but you have to know how to present food in an appealing way. How did you develop your style of putting those two elements together?

When I first moved to Minneapolis, I was hoping to attend art school but then I saw how much it cost so I stayed in the kitchen. I decided to focus my artistic talents onto the plate instead. I learned the basics of Italian, French, Mexican, etc. before I started to work on my own heritage. All throughout that, I put a lot of care into making pretty plates. I like to have fun with the colors and the dishware, but of course most importantly it has to taste good!

Chefs obviously spend their days cooking for other people. Do you have a favorite meal that you don’t cook yourself (at a restaurant or something that someone else makes for you)?

I like so many types of food, anything except fast food. If I had to choose one, I really like Mexican food, and Dana makes really good migas from her time living in Texas.

Thanks to Sean Sherman for taking part in our Q&A. For more information on The Sioux Chef, please visit their website.


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Take a trip back to the 14th century with Ensemble Diabolus in Musica


Church of St. Julien in Tours

Minneapolis and Tours Sister Cities invites you to take a trip back to the 14th century with a newly released podcast by France Musique. Cantores, music from the papal chapel in Avignon, was recorded last October by Ensemble Diabolus in Musica, who will be touring North America with this program later this year. (They also performed La Messe de Nostre Dame in Minneapolis in 2008.) From 1309 to 1377, Avignon was the center of the Christian world as the pope took up residency in Avignon instead of Rome. This was an era where music was migrating from plainchant toward polyphony (a style of composition employing two or more melodic lines).

Ensemble Diabolus in Musica performed this at the medieval Church of St. Julien as part of the inaugural season of Concerts d’Automne, a three-week international early music festival in Tours. The efforts by these ensembles in the areas of early music research and performance have given Tours a reputation as an early music center. This new festival reflects a desire by our sister city to showcase this dimension of its cultural life on the world stage.

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Commemorating World War I Around the World

One hundred years ago, Americans joined the epic conflict first known as “The Great War.” Tours is one of many cities honoring those who paid the ultimate price in the four-year battle that would end with nearly 20 million casualties. In 1914, the population of Tours was approximately 70,000. When the casualties began to flow in (as with many other cities in Europe), the Tours hospital with a mere 188 beds proved to be woefully inadequate. The Red Cross opened makeshift hospitals in such places as local schools and convents. Approximately 1.3 million French soldiers died in the war, along with 200,000 civilian fatalities.

When the United States entered the war in 1917, residents of Tours became familiar with Americans in their city, which they nicknamed “Sammies” as in “the sons of Uncle Sam.” The United States army used Tours as one of their bases because of its location halfway between the combat zones and Atlantic disembarkment points. On Sundays, the American army would perform concerts along the Beranger Boulevard and many houses in Tours were decorated with American flags to celebrate Independence Day on July 4, 1918.

Nearly one million Americans made their way through Tours during World War I and, to thank the United States for their support, the city renamed the main bridge over the Loire River for Woodrow Wilson, the United States president at the time. Similar to many towns around France, Minneapolis has its own tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Victory Memorial Drive, straddling the border of Minneapolis and Robbinsdale, is a tree-lined parkway dedicated to the 568 men and women from Hennepin County killed in World War I. It is one of the largest World War I memorials in the country and was designated an official historic district in 2003.

When General John J. Pershing visited the memorial in 1921, he remarked, “I can conceive of no more fitting monument to the heroic dead of Hennepin County than this great Victory Memorial Drive with its living borders of magnificent trees. Here, present and future generations may come and witness the tribute of a grateful community to its fallen heroes, and meditate on their own duties and obligations as citizens.”

Walter Lindahl, one of the 568 Hennepin County residents killed in battle and honored by the establishment of this historic parkway, wrote home from somewhere in France on July 26, 1918: “Dearest Mother, I am getting hardened to this life now so I am getting confidence in myself and feel a little more able to grapple with this crisis that is now before us. I can now see nothing but victory in sight and soon everything will be bright and maybe, if God allows, your humble son will return again.”

The 100th anniversary of the Americans arrival in France during World War I will be commemorated during the Foire de Tours in May, a regional exhibition which will highlight Minnesota as this year’s featured guest. The Foire is free and open to the public – we invite you to join us in our sister city later this year.

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