©Photographe|Serge GELABERT

Roland Garros

Born on Reunion Island

A pioneer of civil aviation

Roland Garros, born on 6 October 1888 in Saint-Denis on Reunion, was one of the pioneers of French aviation. At the age of 12, he returned with his parents to mainland France, where he enjoyed several sports: football, cycling (he was champion of France in 1906) and later tennis. A brilliant student, Roland Garros passed the competitive exam to get into the international business school HEC Paris, graduating in 1908. At the age of 22, he discovered his vocation: aviation.

But his real feat occurred in 1913, when he made the first aerial crossing of the Mediterranean, flying from Marseille to Bizerte in Tunisia, passing over Corsica and Sardinia. The inventor of the process enabling a machine gun to fire through the blades of a propeller, he actively participated in the First World War. He was part of the Guynemer ‘les Cigognes’ squadron. But in 1918, a month before the armistice, Garros was killed at the age of 30 in aerial combat near Vouziers, where he was buried.

Out of friendship, and in tribute to Roland Garros, who was an amateur tennis player, Emile Lesieur, president of the Stade Français at the time and previously a fellow student of Garros’s at HEC, wanted the Porte d’Auteuil stadium to be named Roland Garros.
The stadium, built to host the France’s defence of the Davis Cup, brought back to France by the ‘Musketeers’, was completed in 1927 and named the Stade Roland Garros in 1928. The stadium now hosts international tennis events in Paris.

Meanwhile, in Reunion, the city of Saint-Denis had statue erected on the Place du 20 décembre 1848 (at Barachois) in 1926 in Garros’s honour. Several places on the island also bear his name: rue Roland Garros, Roland Garros brasserie, located in a building of the Compagnie des Indes, and the Reunion Roland Garros international airport.