Article published on 31 January 2024
last modification on 16 February 2024

Opened on the 2nd of October 1981, The Museum of the Naval Troops in Fréjus reserves an important place, among its contents, for the Colonial Health Service, under its successive titles :

 Health Service of the Colonies and the Countries of the Protectorate (1890-1903)
 Health Service of the Colonial Troops (1903-1958)
 Health Service of Overseas Troops (1958-1961)
 Health Service of Marine Troops (1961-1968)

The Marine Museum in Fréjus

Fréjus is not the oldest garrison of colonial troops in Metropolitan France but it is certainly the one that is best known to all colonial soldiers. Its closeness to the sea, the immense frontier across which lies the overseas domain, the past History of this town which a very great colonialist, Galliéni, had chosen as a wintering resort for troops from all over the empire, determined its choice for the museum where it could be shown that the warlike activities of this army were but an aspect of its History. Moreover, there are close links between Fréjus and the Colonial Health Service because four colonial military hospitals have been established there from 1914 to 1918 : Hospital N° 55 (Fréjus centre), Hospital N° 88 (on the site of the future Hospital Jean-Louis), the Senegalese Hospital (N° 66) and the Annamese Hospital (N° 67) near the Galliéni camp.

One of the tasks of this museum is to preserve the traces and proofs of the pacifying and civilizing role played by France in its colonial Empire. For years these regions had been traversed by gangs who made their fortunes with banditry, pirating and trafficking, beginning with the slave trade. Insecurity was a permanent feature.

R. Mauny in "Siècles obscurs de l’Afrique Noire" ("The Dark Ages of Black Africa") writes :

"The slave trade may be seen as a triptych whose three components are : in the middle, the furnisher, the African who sells his black fellow Africans, first to Arab slave traders from the 7th Century and during twelve centuries, then to Europeans during four centuries beginning with the 16th. On the whole, the number of black people taken away forcefully from their native countries is estimated to be thirty million, half of them by Muslim Arabs, the other half by Europeans. We consider them all as guilty but let us not pretend to be virtuous. We can be sure that, had we lived two or three centuries earlier, we would probably have found it quite normal (…). In fact, we should be aware that all the people on earth have practised slavery in the course of History - even Europeans in the Early Middle Ages, when Christians sold their fellow Europeans - Saxons, Circassians, Magyars and other Slavonic people - to the Muslims.

Ceremonial suit (1935) and uniform (1939) (photos : Musée TDM de Fréjus)

So it is as liberators that our first colonists, who penetrated into remote African regions, introduced themselves in the course of the second half of the 19th Century. It is to the merit of the naval troops that they put an end to the odious trafficking that was a disgrace to mankind". If colonisation brought welcome peace to the overseas civil populations, it also improved their life expectancy and the collections in the museum illustrate this theme.

The Colonial Health Service is presented in many display cabinets and also in a memoir. The multiple aspects of an unequalled achievement for the benefit of civil populations is therein described. Often ignored by the general public, the work accomplished deserves to be explained and illustrated.

In the course of the visit, a lot of documents may be viewed, both rare and original, personal and unpublished archives. The work of important personalities of the Health Service is not forgotten: the discovery of several agents that propagate tropical diseases, the analysis of the modes of transmission of diseases, the invention of protective vaccines, the final realization of treatments for individuals and communities...

Examples of the work accomplished, audio-visual records and diverse objects have been chosen to make this particularly positive aspect of colonization better known :

The Fréjus Museum does not confine itself to evoking the past of colonial naval troops. Its continuing importance is emphasized with temporary exhibitions, monthly conferences, organized visits...

It also accommodates "The Centre for the History and Study of overseas Troops" (CHETOM - "centre d’histoire et d’études des troupes d’outre-mer") which links the museum to several universities, to the centre of documentation of the Pharo, to the Health Service Museum at Val-de-Grâce in Paris, to the ASNOM in order to assure missions of :

 collection and preservation of objects,
 study and research,

It is provided with appropriate premises and equipment and offers researchers, students and teachers a large field of investigation.

A few lines inscribed in the crypt of the Unknown Soldier at the Museum resumes the action of the naval troops :

"They brought
Freedom security peace welfare
To populations decimated by diseases
They gave health
They made eminent contributions
To the social cultural and economic development
Of the people who constituted the empire
And this work goes on today
In the states of the community
Of French-speaking countries
So that following the wish
Of General de Gaulle
France will be everywhere
The gospel of racial fraternity
And equality of opportunity
So that the world may see in her
The face of light and liberty