Birth of a vocation
Born on October 6, 1888 in Saint-Denis de la Reunion (his airport is also named after him), this boy, who had his father’s origins in Toulouse and his mother’s Breton origins, was distinguished in the his youth, in football and rugby. fields, but also to the little queen. Cycling allowed him, above all, to regain his breathing skills, weakened by pneumonia contracted at the age of 12 in metropolitan France, in Paris where his parents had to send him to continue his studies.
It was in August 1909, at the age of 21, that she fell madly in love with flying wings, after attending her first air meeting in Champagne where she spent her summer vacation. There” Great Champagne Aviation Week from the 22nd to the 29th of August, it is a revelation for him: he will be an aviator. The profits of his car business allowed him to immediately commission the least expensive discovery of flying machines of the time, at the Palais de l’ocomotion aerienne of the Palais, a Demoiselle Santos-Dumont, who learned to fly on her own. before. pass your patent.
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An aviation star
“The Eternal Second”
Back in France in May 1911, after a tour of the United States, he took part in the three major events of the year, the Paris-Madrid flight, the Paris-Rome and the European Circuit. . Despite his undeniable qualities as a pilot, his hair was always cut to the brim and journalists dubbed him “the second eternal”.
The feat of flying over the Mediterranean
Two years later, here he is taking revenge and breaking a first record of altitude, on September 6, 1911, at 3,910 meters, after taking off from Houlgate Beach. Then the races and air meetings follow one another. Bold and inventive, Roland Garros quickly became a star of the discipline. Hundreds of thousands flock to Europe and South America to see their aerial developments. But what he wants is to fly over the seas. A new challenge was posed: crossing the Mediterranean, a first at that time.
On September 23, 1913, he linked Saint-Raphaël with Bizerte, Tunisia, in his Morane-Saulnier monoplane, after traveling about 780 kilometers. An epic of almost eight hours, performed at an average speed of 101 kilometers per hour and marked by two breakdowns, which this genius of mechanics quickly solved. This feat made him a hero of his time and one of the beloved of Tout-Paris. Jean Cocteau, among others, became his friend. The poet and filmmaker, to whom Garros sometimes steals, even dedicated a text to him, “Le Cap de Bonne Espérance”.
Pioneer of aviation and hero of the Great War
When World War I broke out, Roland Garros was immediately involved. He will fight in the air, of course. At the time, military aviation was in its infancy and had virtually no weapons. This forerunner will develop the first single-seater fighter equipped with a machine gun firing through the propeller. A revolution. He returned to the front equipped with his new firing device and recorded, in early April 1915, three consecutive victories in fifteen days, before being struck by the German flak over Belgium. Forced to land, he was taken prisoner before he could set the plane on fire. Falling into the hands of the enemy, his invention will inspire the Germans.
After escaping after three years, Lieutenant Garros returns to combat, despite a state of health degraded by his captivity. His latent myopia, which has become very embarrassing, forces him to go secretly to get glasses so he can continue driving. On October 2, 1918, Roland Garros achieved its fourth and final victory. On the eve of his 30th birthday, October 5, five weeks before the armistice, after a fight against Fokker D.VIIs, his SPAD exploded in the air before crashing into the territory of the commune of Saint-Morel, in the Ardennes, not far from Vouziers where he is buried. The pioneer of aviation became a hero of the Great War.