1st Battle of the Marne.
Centenary Anniversary of the 1st Battle of the Marne.
This was, not surprisingly, a very special commemoration indeed of the battles which had such a decisive effect on the entire shape of the 1st World War. It was painstakingly organised and led by Richard Adams who worked closely with the French MOD and was fascinating for the 54 participants who were blessed by 5 days of glorious weather .Our superb coach driver collected us steadily until we were a full coach at Dover and then drove us on a very pleasant route he had chosen to our hotel by the Marne at Chateau Thierry
On Friday 12th September we drove to Mondement through many police checkpoints and tight security and this was for some of us the first sight of the extraordinary red sandstone monument which commemorates the 1st Battle of the Marne looking across the beautiful valley to the north east. We were most warmly welcomed by our French hosts and were seated in an excellent position among the very large attendance of French and Germans, colour parties, including our own Peter Galloway, and VIP's. The British Ambassador Sir David Ricketts was present and spoke with us and the Prime Minister of France Manuel Valls welcomed us with a fine speech after which we all enjoyed Vin d'honneur in the grounds of the Chateau Mondement. The colourfulness of the occasion (and Bert Mayle in his Chelsea Hospital red coat was most prominent) and the warmth of relationship between British , French and Germans was especially marked and this was emphasised by our attendance at the German Cemetery at Connantre in memory of the German fallen in a spirit of genuine reconciliation. Afterwards we attended the lunch of friendship where we consumed course after course and wine and conversation flowed between all three nations.
The Saturday the morning was organised by us with a wreath laying ceremony at the huge British War memorial besides the River Marne at La Ferte sous Jouarre on which are inscribed 3740 names of the BEF fallen at Mons, on the Retreat the Marne and the Aisne who have no grave. The writer of this article was honoured to lay a wreath and in doing so he was mindful of the name of Captain B.H. Selby of the Northumberland Fusiliers whose dead body was seen lying in a small cave by his uncle a 2/Lt in the Buffs as he took over his platoon position relieving I NF above the river on September 21st 1914 as recorded in his personal diary. We were joined by the Town Mayor and other dignitaries who laid wreaths .We were delighted to meet up again with the noble band of twelve Metropolitan Policemen wearing 1914 uniform who had been with us at Maurice French's pilgrimage to Mons a week earlier and who had since retraced the route of the Retreat raising money for Help for Heroes The hot weather and their uniforms had been a great trial for them and they all had seriously blistered feet all in a great cause.
In the afternoon we visited Vailly sur Aisne for the first time and the beautiful British War Cemetery nestling under the wooded ridge that runs along the north side of the river. We went to identify all the graves of the unknown fallen knowing that the body of Pte Arthur Jeffery of 4th R.F lay in one of them. He died on 14th September 1914 during the first day of the Battle of the Aisne, In our party was Bill Jeffery, the grandson of Arthur, and his wife Helen. Bill is a Canadian, his family having emigrated in the late 1920's. Arthurs body was never definitely found but his name is on the war memorial at La Ferte where Bill had earlier laid a personal wreath. Wooden crosses were laid by us on all the unknown graves of Royal Fusiliers in the knowledge that one of them was almost certainly Bill's grave. This was very moving event on our journey .We then went up to the top of the plateau to Rouge Maison Farm close to where Arthur almost certainly died during the fierce fighting in which 4th RF suffered 200 casualties
After that Gos Home led our party into a field close by where his uncle, mentioned earlier, 2/Lt Charles Chapman who fought with 1st Buffs from 21st September in trenches in the wood that can still be clearly seen. Extracts from his personal war diary were read covering the long march the Buffs made towards Vailly from a railhead east of Paris through Chateau Thierry and Jouarre and onto the ridge and into battle.
Sunday 14th September was yet another day of perfect weather and we drove to St Denis Church in Sezanne for a beautifully organised International Centenary Thanksgiving Mass. This beautiful old church was packed with French, British and Germans and the service was magnificently conducted on the theme of reconciliation by a group of Priests and lay men and women. Our Colours were very much to the fore and addresses and the theme centred on reconciliation between the foes of a hundred years ago. We shook hands afterwards with those who had led this service before proceeding to a wreath laying ceremony at the town cemetery where we acknowledged the fallen of our French allies, and the French did likewise for us.. This was followed by the traditional Vin d'honneur and then a "repas" of many courses at the Restaurant La Croix d'Or in Sezanne. This culminated in moving speeches focussing on reconciliation much aided by free flowing wine and singing of many international songs of the period.
It is very important to stress that what started as a Royal Fusilier pilgrimage led by Michael Gibson-Horrocks has rightly become a RRF affair. I Northumberland Fusiliers, as mentioned were there, so was 4 RF whose role at Mons is mentioned in a separate article while 1 Royal Warwicks, I Lancashire Fusiliers and I Royal Fusiliers were also in the BEF. This was a unique Centenary pilgrimage which has set down a marker for future visits for many years to come. Those of us who took part all agree that commemorating the sacrifices of our forefathers in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is a responsibility which we must now progressively pass down the generations so that the incredible victory that the Marne battles were is never forgotten. It stopped Germany from totally conquering France and in so doing led progressively, after four more years, to the cessation of this horrific world war.
Next year's dates are 3rd September to 7th September 2015. Please contact Richard Adams at richardadams5 @hotmail.com or call 01608 662 328 for details of costs and the itinerary.