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Disfigured French soldiers denied pensions set up Loto

France’s national lottery has a long history. 

It stretches back to at least the reign of Louis XIV, but in its modern form it is linked directly to former World War One soldiers who were left with mutilated faces as a result of battlefield wounds.

They were not eligible for disability pensions because they still had their legs and arms, even though they often had health problems and difficulty getting work – or even walking down the street – due to reactions to their appearance.

By 1920, an army colonel who had suffered a severe facial injury, Colonel Yves Emile Picot, and two other ex-servicemen, Bienaimé Jourdain and Albert Jugon, had organised self-help groups and started running a system of tombolas, called La Dette, to fund the groups.

Disfigured ex-servicemen – many of whom were in poverty, with no jobs and little social contact, sold tickets on the streets until pensions were granted in 1925 following a campaign.

In 1933, the government set up a national lottery, with many ex-servicemen selling tickets.

Soon after the war, the term Gueules Cassées (broken faces) was used to describe facially disfigured ex-servicemen, see main image above.

Gueule means mouth but is only applied correctly when used for animals. Bouche is used for people. Using gueule to describe a person can be insulting – ‘ta gueule’ is a rude way of telling someone to shut up.

It started after Colonel Picot was stopped from entering a gala opera, despite having tickets, because of his disfigurement.

A parliamentarian, hearing the commotion, shouted out that the Gueules Cassées must be let in and honoured. 

Olivier Roussel, managing director of the Union des Blessés de la Face et de la Tête (UBFT), which runs the Fondation des Gueules Cassées, told Connexion: “Colonel Picot saw how the term Gueules Cassées, a rude and shocking term for the public but used by the wounded themselves, could be used to symbolise the movement, and it has been used ever since.

“He also came up with the motto Sourire Quand Même (smile, even so), which we still use today.” 

This history means the union, set up in 1921, has a 9.2% stake in the newly privatised FDJ lottery company.

Mr Roussel said it intended to hold on to it, rather than sell and invest in other projects. 

The computer systems running the Loto are still sited in UBFT premises.

Dividends – since 1976, the association has not received a tenth of the profit from every draw as it used to – are used to fund association hospital units, homes and social work, and for medical research, especially into techniques of repairing facial and head injuries.

The UBFT is still close to its origins, working in a spirit of fraternité et d’entraide to give moral and material help to soldiers, police officers, gendarmes, and firemen hurt on active duty, as well as civilian victims of terrorist attacks hurt in the face or head.

Its headquarters are in Paris but it has local groups in the provinces finding and helping those in need.

It runs a convalescent home in a chateau north of Paris, bought in 1926 to provide respite to wounded soldiers undergoing heavy and painful surgery to their faces, and a holiday home near Toulon in the south. An old-age home, named after Colonel Picot, is also run by the union.

The medical research projects are run by Fondation des Gueules Cassées and researchers are invited each year to submit projects for funding.


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