Art & Culture

Published on June 19th, 2019 | by William Thoral


Roland Garros, an aviation legend

With the conclusion of  the 2019 French Open tournament having ended on June 9 at the Roland Garros stadium in France, we are given the opportunity to look back at the man whose name was awarded to this legendary tournament. Roland Garros was a flight lieutenant during World War I.

He was born on October 6th, 1888 in Saint-Denis, Reunion. After a childhood spent with his parents in Cochinchina, he arrived in Paris, alone and at 12 years of age, to continue his education.

The poster of an event “Grande Semaine d’Aviation” in 1909. Photo by Wikipedia.

When he was 20 he attended a week-long aviation event that took place in Courcelles-Sapicourt a small commune located in the Champagne-Ardenne region. This will be a major turning point for him. It is here that he decides to become an aviator. It’s at these aviation tournaments that the young pilot cooks up a crazy plan to one day cross the Mediterranean Sea by plane.

It’s on September 23rd, 1913 that he’s able to carry out this feat in just 7 hours and 53 minutes in his Morane-Saulnier monoplane, rallying the city of Bizerte in Tunisia, after a departure from the base of Frejus-St-Raphael.

The following year, on August 2nd, 1914 the young man will be engaged as a fighter pilot in the Morane-Saulnier Squadron MS23 upon the outbreak of World War I. He participates in several missions before being stationed at a military base in Paris where he will work as an aircraft mechanic. In 1915 Roland Garros returns to the front in the MS26 Squadron and clinches three aerial victories in barely fifteen days. That same year, on April 18th, on a mission over occupied Belgium, Second-Lieutenant Garros was taken prisoner.

Roland Garros poses standing in the cockpit of monoplane, circa 1910-1911. Photo by Smithsonian – National Air and Space Museum.

After being shuffled from prison to prison, he’s finally able to escape from the Magdeburg camp in Germany in February of 1918 and is promoted to the rank of an Officer in the Legion of Honor. On October 2nd 1918 Roland Garros, then integrated into the SPA26 squadron, won his fourth and last aerial victory. On October 5th, on the eve of his 30th birthday, his SPAD exploded in the air during a dogfight with Fokker D. VII.

As of today, his name still remains associated with the French Open tournament, which has borne his name since its construction in 1928. If he did indeed play amateur tennis in his youth, it would have been at Le Stade Français in 1906 where he also practiced rugby. With the help of his friend Emile Lesieur, whom would later go on to become the president of the association in 1927, his name was able to be bestowed upon the future tennis stadium, which was being built for the upcoming Davis Cup.

This article was translated in English by John Wilmot.

About the Author

grew up in Provins, a medieval town classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He currently lives in Vendée. He is passionate since his childhood by the universe of mangas (The Knights of the Zodiac, Fly or Chronicles of the Lodoss War), video games (Final Fantasy VII, Secret of Mana and Zelda) and Heroic stories - Fantasy by JRR Tolkien, David Gemmell and Terry Goodkind. He decides then to create characters and a world where magic reigns, where nothing is impossible, and where courage and will transcend beings. Thus, his book Cristar was born, the sword of legend, of which Volume 1 was published in 2012. The many positive impacts of the readers and the local press were right to the author: the sequel has just appeared.

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