Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, October 13, 2017

Why Is France's Battle of the Marne Monument at Mondemont?

The National Monument to the Right; the Chateau on the Left
Was the Scene of Intense Fighting on 9 September 1914

On 12 September 2014 France commemorated the 100th anniversary of its victory at the Marne in a tiny Champagne village named Mondemont (shown above), which is far from any city and most inconvenient to visit. The ceremony was held there, though, because it is also the location of the nation's monument to the victory.  But why is the nation's monument located in this isolated location?

One clue is that commemorations were already being held at Mondemont while the war was still being fought. This suggests that the site already had a powerful symbolic draw. One hundred years later one can only guess why this should be. Mondemont was most certainly strategically important in September 1914. Had the German Army broken through in this area they would have wreaked havoc with Joffre's deployments, especially to the east.

The fighting around Mondemont also brought General Ferdinand Foch to the forefront of the French Army and the nation would eventually look to him as the architect of victory in 1918. Commanding the new Ninth Army in the middle of the French line south of the Marne, Foch had found his forces under siege by two converging enemy armies for five critical days, during which he contributed one of the great quotes of military history—" My center is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent. I am attacking!" However, while Foch certainly had something to say about the location of the monument when it was authorized by parliament in 1920, the dominant, bigger-than-life representation on the monument is Joseph Joffre, not Ferdinand Foch.

Joffre—Gigantic; a Poilu—Bigger Than Life; French Generals—Normal Size

My best guess is that, while not the site of the deepest penetration of the German Army into France's heartland in 1914, it was the most southerly battlefield where the outcome could have turned either way. In other words, Mondemont was where France was spared a dagger to her heart.

In any case, seeing the 35-meter tall, dark-pink concrete colossus in person is something every World War I student should do. Known locally as “The Carrot", it is a remarkable combination of Celtic runes, a classical winged victory, and conventional iconography of military memorials.

1 comment:

  1. It's also a grand view over the marshes of St. Grond. Very moving monument in a beautiful area. Well worth the visit!