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Their Great War

Whoever you are, wherever you are, someone like you was affected by the First World War

‘Iron Jaw’ Criqui

the French disfigured boxer Eugène Criqui

by Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt, University of Exeter

Fri 28 March 14

Eugène Criqui was born in Belleville, near Paris, on 15 August 1893. A rather frail looking boy, he started an apprenticeship in a factory where his quick temper got him involved in many a fight. What he lacked in physical strength was made up for by his mental toughness.

At the turn of the century Eugène started fighting for money but he remained unwilling to put effort in a strict training programme. In the 1910s he was beginning to fight abroad whilst at the same time asserting his title as France’s featherweight champion. In 1913 Criqui was temporarily exempted from military service, but when the war broke out he was sent to the front. In November 1914, with the 54th infantry regiment, he arrived in the Meuse area, the ‘antechamber of hell’ in his own words.

One night of March 1915, he was on guard duty when a bullet hit him in the face. His tongue sliced in two prevented him from speaking, his jaw was broken and several of his teeth knocked out. He was losing a lot of blood, so much so that soldiers, officers and doctors equally believed that Eugène, in shock, would not survive. However after hours drifting in and out of consciousness, he was still alive and the decision was made to evacuate him to a hospital in Lyon.

In between his operations, Eugène befriended his fellow patients, especially the men who were, like him, ‘gueules cassées’ [facially injured soldiers]. When his mother visited him, his shattered jaw prevented him from talking with her, but together they cried. Eugène struggled to regain his ability to speak and although he had at first thought he would never go back to boxing, retrieving his physical strength gave him hope. He decided to test the solidity of his new jaw – mended with a metal plate which earned him the nickname Mâchoire de fer [Iron jaw] – and having found it satisfactory, learnt to hit first and knock out his opponent.

Towards the end of his treatment, Eugène still had difficulties to chew and eat solid foods. This saved him from being sent back to the front. In 1917, having been awarded a war medal, he started fighting professionally again, this time putting a lot of effort into his physical preparation. His injury forced him to adapt his boxing style, but so did meeting Luce. She helped him regain his confidence and encouraged him to take his training seriously. Eugène married Luce and went on to become the featherweight world champion in 1923, albeit just for a few weeks.

Eugène Criqui retired in 1928 and died in 1977. During his lifetime, his ‘iron jaw’ remained a lasting reminder of his war wounds, but it also participated in his success as a boxing champion.

Criqui, Eugène and Robert Bré, ‘Les aventures de ma vie’ (2), Match l’intran: le plus grand hebdomadaire sportif, 23 February 1932 (285), pp. 6-7
—, ‘Les aventures de ma vie’ (3), Match l’intran: le plus grand hebdomadaire sportif, 1 March 1932 (287), pp. 6-7
Roberts, James and Alexander Skutt, ‘Eugène Criqui’, The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book (Ithaca: McBooks Press, 2006), pp. 94-95
‘Gégène Gueule Cassée’, Fédération Française de Boxe official website, <> [28 March 2014]