Garçons de '71
From an article on the University of Houston website by John Lienhard
- Paris had an urgent need to communicate with the outside world. The French were already using tethered balloons to observe the enemy. Now they decided to set up an air mail service. They sent out a call for every existing balloon in Paris and they set up shops for building far more balloons.
- In all, 66 balloons left Paris carrying information to France beyond the German lines. Most flights were made at night. In all, the balloons delivered 102 passengers and 11 tons of mail. The mail amounted to 2-1/2 million letters. The balloons also delivered 400 carrier pigeons for return mail. To bring mail back by pigeon, the French outside Paris used early photography to reduce 16 pages of text to a 1¼" by 2" piece of film. But pigeons are unreliable. Only one in eight ever arrived back.
- The balloonists had their troubles too but less than anyone expected. Two were lost at sea. Six were captured by the Germans when they landed. When others came down behind enemy lines, their pilots managed to deliver the mail anyway. One landed on an island off the coast of Brittany. The most dramatic flight was one that landed in a Norwegian forest after an astonishing 875-mile trip. One flight carried the Minister of the Interior. He landed in an oak tree. But he landed safely nonetheless.