Commemorating the 1st Battle of the Marne
REPORT OF 2011 REGIMENTAL ASSOCIATION ANNUAL MARNE PILGRIMAGE
By Major Mark Forster (retired)
In response to a letter sent out through RHQ RRF, my wife Lucy and I signed up for the first time for the annual Mondement pilgrimage run by the Royal Fusiliers Association.
For many years the Royal Fusiliers Association have been the only British representatives at the French commemorations at Mondement at the beginning of September each year. This year, the Association made a particular point of asking our other former regiments and areas this year. All our former regiments were involved as units of the British Expeditionary Force under Sir John French. As a former officer of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers who served in 1RNF and 1RRF I decided to go - probably as the first representative of the regiment to attend these commemorations for many years.
The Mondement memorial commemorates the 1st Battle of the Marne at the beginning of World War 1, when the triumphant German Army, which had advanced through Belgium and was nearing Paris, was stopped and forced back to what became the line of the trenches. The Battle of the Marne was one of the most significant battles in history, but tends to be overshadowed by what came after.
The Marne was still "traditional" mobile warfare with marching infantry, cavalry with lances, and artillery firing over open sights - the only means of communication field telephone and cyclist messengers.
The British Expeditionary Force, containing every one of our former regiments and commanded by Sir John French, fought alongside the French Army. The link was very strong between the 1st Bn, Northumberland Fusiliers (as they were then) and the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers since they were in 9th Infantry Brigade together throughout the entire war.
We met the first batch of our fellow pilgrims at Balham and moved via the Tower to Dover, picking up more people en route, including Colonel James Aldous, the Association Chairman.
We eventually arrived at Epernay a very pleasant town at the heart of the Champagne country. The French made us feel extremely welcome, and the Mayor of Epernay make a point of personally visiting us in our hotel. During our time there we were able to sample some of the excellent restaurants and also visit the Pol Roger Champagne house, in the famous Avenue de Champagne, where we were show round by Hubert de Billy, a member of the Pol Roger family.
Over the three days, we visited four memorial sites, including a German memorial:
Friday 2nd La Ferté sous Jouarre. The British War Memorial bears the names of over 3,000 members of the BEF who fell at Mons, the Retreat from Mons, Le Cateau, Marne and Aisne who have no known grave. On the way back, we visited the site of the bridge at Nanteuil-sur-Marne where 1st Bn, The Northumberland Fusiliers, acting as advance guard for 9th Infantry Brigade, crossed the Marne unopposed, discovering to their great surprise that the Germans had not blown the bridge during their retreat. The bridge there now is not the original - it's a sobering thought that there have been at least three subsequent campaigns fought over the same territory.
As we drove around the countryside we saw several memorials to Napoleon's
armies from his final campaign in 1814 before abdicating and being sent
to Elba - fought over the same country precisely 100 years before.
Sunday 4th. The main event at Mondement, followed by an amazing seven course banquet and then a visit to the German military cemetery at Connantre.
On Monday we returned to England, via the large Carrefour on the
edge of Calais.