Roland Garros: his childhood
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Roland Garros was born in 1888 on Reunion Island. His father Georges, originally from Toulouse, is a lawyer there. His mother, née Clara Faure, is from Lorient.
When he was only 4 years old, Georges Garros opened a law firm in Saigon (in Cochinchina, formerly Vietnam). The family follows the father to Saigon and the education of little Roland is provided by his mother.
But at the age of 12, problem: you have to get Roland Garros to college. And French colleges in Saigon, there are none. Direction therefore France, and Paris to be exact so that Roland follows his schooling. His mother and father remain in Asia.
So, at 12, he left for France, all alone, without his parents. As soon as he arrived at Stanislas College in Paris, the young boy fell seriously ill (pneumonia). Without waiting for the parents’ opinion, Roland was transferred, still alone, to another Stanislas college, but in Cannes.
The southern climate suits him better and he is healing. An accomplished schoolboy, he distinguished himself in various sports … but not tennis as one might think. His performances, he achieves them in cycling, and in football.
At 18, he returned to Paris, to finish his education at Janson de Sailly (in the 16th arrondissement). He continued his studies and graduated from HEC in 1908. There he befriended Emile Lesieur (who will play a role in the name of the Porte d’Auteuil Tennis stadium). Emile Lesieur is therefore one of his friends at HEC, an international rugby union, and a member of the Stade Français. Roland Garros will also play rugby … and not really tennis.
Roland Garros: car dealer
What we still haven’t mentioned in the history of Roland Garros is his passion for mechanics. Thus, after his studies, he opened a store selling cars a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Its store displays the “Roland Garros automobiles – sports carts” sign and is located on avenue de la Grande-Armée. He sells, he tweaks engines, and he even goes so far as to create a new model of car.
Roland Garros: the discovery of aviation
One day, in August 1909, he went to Reims to see an aeronautical show during the Great Aviation Week in Champagne.
And there, it is love at first sight … for these small flying devices. Immediately afterwards, he ordered his first plane, the cheapest on the market: the Demoiselle Santos-Dumont. 9 months later, he finally received his plane and parked it on an aerodrome near Paris: in Issy les Moulineaux.
And Roland Garros, self-taught, learns piloting on his own.
Roland Garros: aviator profession
Here is Roland Garros, without pilot’s license, which is requested to participate in airshows. Meetings that take him from Cholet to New York. There, he found a former comrade, John Moisant, met at the Issy les Moulineaux aerodrome. John Moisant, and his brother Alfred, organize an aerial exhibition tour across the United States. They embark on the Roland Garros adventure. Roland Garros was then 22 years old, he flies every day, in all weather conditions, and he is refining his art. Roland Garros will then be nicknamed “the cloud kisser“(the one who kisses the clouds).
It was then that Roland Garros had fun breaking records (especially in altitude) and participating in races. He is, among other things, the first pilot to cross the Mediterranean.
It took off on September 23, 1913 aboard a Morane-Saulnier from the Fréjus-Saint Raphael aerodrome. On board, it takes 200 liters of gasoline and 60 liters of castor oil. Despite two breakdowns that he repairs in flight, he flies from the south of France to Tunisia, to Bizerte. The 780 kilometer crossing is completed in 7 hours and 53 minutes (i.e. at an average speed of 101 kilometers per hour). On arrival, he only has 5 liters of gasoline left in the tank.
Roland Garros: military
2014 – Enlistment
In 1914 begins the First World War. He enlisted in the army on August 2, 1914, and he was assigned to the MS23 squadron. His first missions are spotting, and some shell drops. In flight, pilots shoot each other with revolvers and guns. Then a machine gun is embarked. But shooting and driving at the same time is not easy.
2014/2015 – Invention of the submachine gun that shoots through the propeller
With a friend, he builds an airplane with a machine gun that shoots through the propeller of his plane. The first stratagem involves shielding the propellers. If a ball hits the propeller, it stops its course, without shearing the propeller. Then in January 1915, he slipped the machine gun barrel in the field of rotation of the propeller. And now the pilot can fly and shoot, following enemy planes.
After 3 victories, he flew over Belgium on April 18, 1915. His plane was hit by the German air force and he lost his fuel. He had to land but did not have time to “burn” his plane. He was arrested by the Germans who, at the same time, discovered the invented device. Device that the German engineers will copy and improve, making them win the battle of the sky in 1915 and 1916.
2018 – Evasion
Roland Garros will remain in detention for 3 years. He is regularly changed camps, like all strong heads, to avoid giving him time to organize an escape. However, in 1918, he managed to escape from the Magdeburg camp.
For this, he joins forces with a co-detainee: Lieutenant Anselme Marchal. They make fake German officer costumes. Anselme Marchal speaks fluent German and they trick the sentries. Back in Paris, Roland Garros is greeted like a hero. He is also decorated with the rank of officer of the Legion of Honor.
October 5, 1918 – dead
The day before his thirtieth birthday, he went on a mission to the Ardennes. His plane is shot down and explodes in flight. Roland Garros dies at 29 years and 364 days, five weeks before the Armistice. His plane was found in Saint-Morel, and Roland Garros was then buried in Vouziers.
Why did the Roland Garros stadium take its name?
In 1927, the Four Musketeers (René Lacoste, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet, and Jacques Brugnon) won their first Davis Cup. They won 6 in a row between 1927 and 1932.
In 1928, France was to host the Davis Cup final. As the 4 French dominate world tennis, the idea is to build an enclosure worthy of the name to host the event. The place is chosen: Porte d’Auteuil, a few hectometers from the sports club: the Stade Français. The Stade Français won the tender from the city of Paris for the construction of the stadium.
And among the directors of the French stadium, we find a certain Emile Lesieur (the friend of HEC at Roland Garros). Emile Lesieur agrees to finance the construction of the stadium, and to commit his personal property to the project. But it requires one thing: to choose the name of the stadium. For that, he would have declared:
I will not take a penny out of my crates if we do not give the name of my friend Garros at this stage.
The French internationals were created in 1891. Until 1927, they were held at the Racing Club de France and the Stade Français. The internationals of France were then baptized the Roland-Garros tournament only from 1928.
During World War II, the Roland-Garros stadium was requisitioned. It is used as a “transit camp for foreigners deemed undesirable”. Since then, tournaments have followed one another. The screams of the players echo in May in the aisles of Roland Garros, the stars sign the cameras at the end of the match,