On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the War to end all wars was declared over. 93 years later we celebrate November 11th as Veteran’s Day, a memorial to all soldiers, living and dead, who served our country. In 1918 it was called Armistice Day, without foreknowledge that the “Great War” would be followed by so many conflicts that we had to retroactively number it World War One.
Although the United States did not officially enter WWI until April 6th, 1917, there were in fact Americans in France much earlier. Volunteer American ambulance corps helped transport the wounded in 1915. A year later America’s famous Lafayette Squadron could be seen in the skies above Verdun.
But it wasn’t until June 1st, 1917, when 20,000 men of the 1st Infantry Division landed in St. Nazaire that America was officially in the war. By the end of the following month they were in position at Gondrecourt-le-Chateau in the southeast of the Meuse.
At the time the whole American army consisted of only 200,000 poorly equipped soldiers, so the French had to provide cannons, machine guns, rifles and munitions as well as the necessary training. Imagine that forgotten fact. We had thousands of American men on French soil, in French uniforms, with French weapons being trained by France to become soldiers. Not since the American Revolution had the French and American armies relied so heavily upon each other.
After the US Conscription Law was passed, these numbers increased to 77,000 by the beginning of November, and within five months, to 335,000. The arrival of American troops provided necessary relief for the war-weary French soldiers, precipitating the end of the War.
I toured all the battlefields, monuments and reliquaries for the 90th anniversary of the war’s end and wrote about it here:
As an example of the “necessary relief for the war-weary French soldiers”, on the 22 of august 1914, during the battle of Charleroi, the French army lost 27,000 men in one day. This was when the primary method of battle was close bayonet fighting.
There are many ways to remember and memorialize the veterans of war. Recently a French friend sent me an article about a Parisian who hand-crafted models of French soldiers from the period. Each is a 12” replica done in painstaking detail, and each looks as if it is modeled from life. I’m not into collectibles, and no longer play with toy soldiers, but looking at these life-like figures I can understand the fascination. The quality of reproduction, right down to the accurate kit and sewn boots, is incredible.
The pictured figure is of a French caporal from the 5eme Régiment d’Infanterie (Corporal 5th Infantry Regiment) during the Marne battle in September 1914.
To see photographs of all the figures he has created along with more descriptions of their service: http://ww1inonesix.wordpress.com/pad75/
If you are ever in France, the links below will help you to coordinate a tour such as the one I took in 2008. While it can be a somber reminder of the ravages of war, the countryside you’ll see and the people you’ll meet are lovely.
Meuse Tourism Office
There are over 80 monuments dedicated to the USA in the Meuse. Hightlights include the Argonne Battlefield, Saint-Mihiel Salient, Thiaucourt Cemetery, Verdun and the Red Zone, Fort Douaumont, Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun Memorial Museum, Citadel and, from late June through July see the recreation of the Battle of Verdun as the largest sound & light show in France on Friday & Saturday nights.
Reims Tourism Office
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated money to rebuild the Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral, the Andrew Carnegie Foundation donated money to build the municipal library, and Americans donated money for the Children’s Hospital of Reims. Also, as a WW II site, the museum of the surrender of the Third Reich’s German Armies is in the map room of the Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, (which was the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces.) The surrender ended the Second World War in Europe.
La Marne Tourism Office
Moreau Valley Camp, Navarin Monument remembering 10,000 unknown soldiers who died in the battles for Champagne, this includes Teddy Roosevelt’s son Quenton’s remains and plaques to the Rainbow Division. Also see the American Monument at Blanc Mont commemorating the 70,000 American soldiers who fought there. The Circuit of Remembrance is a self-guided tour in the footsteps of the Armies of Champagne