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Henri Berthelot and Alba Iulia

General Henri Mathias Berthelot, head of the French Military Mission in Romania during the First World War, visited Alba Iulia twice. His first visit was organised one month after the unification of Transylvania with Romania. The second visit took place during the crowning ceremonies organized on 15 October 1922, for King Ferdinand I and Queen Mary. The photo displays the Romanian monarch and the French general in a cordial handshake.

General Henri Berthelot has earned the title of great friend of the Romanian people in the history of Romania, due mainly to his role as head of the French Military Mission, which in the winter of 1916/1917 inspired trust and helped to reorganise the Romanian army. Born on 7 December 1861 in the Loire department, he attended the famous Saint Cyr military academy, as well as the Superior Military School in Paris, and then quickly climbed the French army hierarchy. In 1914, he was a member of the staff of General Joffre and made significant contributions in the battles of Champagne (1915) and Verdun (1916). “Dad Bertălău”, as Romanian soldiers used to call him amicably, was, to use a contemporary description: “a giant, so tall that one would not notice how thick he was, and so thick that his height seemed smaller than the reality […]. He had a formidable memory and a cold judgment. He was hardworking and scrupulous and demanded precision in everything.”

In acknowledgment of the role that Henri Berthelot played in the reorganisation of the Romanian army after the disastrous campaign of 1916, many cities in Romania have streets named after the French general. Even though none of the streets or boulevards in Alba Iulia bear his name, the general visited the city twice. In December 1918, shortly after the end of the war, when the former Austro-Hungarian territories inhabited by Romanian majorities united with the Old Kingdom, Henri Berthelot began a trip in Banat and Transylvania in order to assess the situation of these two provinces and to inform Paris about it. On 1 January 1919, one month after the achievement of the unification of Transylvania with Romania, he arrived for the first time in Alba Iulia expressing his “joy at visiting and speaking in this historical city” as well as “seeing the same sun that Michael the Brave saw.” The citizens of Alba Iulia organised a festive reception for the French guest, who was welcomed by city officials and archpriest Iustinian Teculescu, the future bishop of the army.

On 15 October 1922, the crowning of King Ferdinand I and Queen Mary in Alba Iulia was attended by representatives of the special missions of several countries that had close diplomatic ties with Romania and, unsurprisingly, France was among these. Marshall Ferdinand Foch and General Maxime Weygand participated in the French mission delegated to this ceremony, while General Berthelot was invited as special guest. The photo, taken on 15 October, shortly after the coronation ceremony, displays openly the cordiality between the Romanian king and the French general, resulting from the long collaboration during the war when the Romanian army and the French Military Mission had overcome the hardships of 1916. (S.A.)