|French Troops, Fay, Somme Sector|
On my recent group tour of the Somme battlefield, I made a concerted effort to cover the French contribution to the battle. This meant incorporating stops at sites on both sides of the River Somme, like the the Montagne de Frise and Curlu, which were captured on 1 July; journeying to the most southerly reaches of the battle; Lihons, Soyécourt, and Chaulnes; and following the French advance on the flank of the September 1916 British push, during which it was the French Sixth Army that made the farthest advance east in the entire campaign to Rancourt (location of a moving French memorial) and the village of Sailly Saillisel.
|View of Somme from Montagne de Frise toward Curlu|
Both Sites Captured 1 July 1916
For our group, most of whom had never read much about the French contributions to the Battle of the Somme, I believe it was eye-opening. For me, I felt a little guilty, I realized that had not done justice to the French contribution in my earlier tours. I might be writing more about this in future postings, but I want to share a comment I remember from a review I read a few years ago. It is a sort of caution to us in the English-speaking world how deeply the war involved and touched France.
The Great War shaped the subsequent history of France as surely as France shaped the Great War. Mourning marked every family; bitter political animosities that came to the surface in 1917 contributed ultimately to the decline of the Third Republic; and the totalization of war, that made civilians as well as soldiers the targets of military aggression, became a tragic hallmark of twentieth-century European life. Equally importantly, France and the Great War makes evident how French resolve in the face of unparalleled adversity shaped the history of the Great War. Given that, any analysis of the First World War that leaves France on the side-lines is fundamentally inadequate
Martha Hanna, University of Colorado, in her review of France and the Great War 1914-1918. by Leonard V. Smith, Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau.