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 5, 2018

Polish and Czech Memorials at Neuville-Saint-Vaast

Bob Kozlowski Visits the Polish Memorial on My 2015 Tour

Two monuments stand either side of the road which runs between Neuville-Saint-Vaast and Souchez. Both pay tribute to the Czech and Polish immigrants who enrolled in the French Army to not  only protect their adopted home but also to free their native countries from German and Austro-Hungarian rule

At the end of the 18th century, Poland lost her independence and her lands were shared between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. As for the Czechs and the Slovaks, they were forced to live under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Detail from the Polish Memorial

At the start of the war, Polish immigrants in Paris and the north of France were a well-organized group and were quick to volunteer for the French Foreign Legion. Similarly, the members of a Czech educational movement called Sokol and a social-democrat organization called Rovnost were sent for training in Bayonne where they formed the Nazdar Company.

These volunteers took part in the Artois offensive launched by the French on 9 May 1915, and many lost their lives in that battle.

Frank, Jr., and Frank Cihak, Sr., at the Czech Memorial

At the entrance to the Czech cemetery stands a monument to commemorate the standard-bearer Karel Bezdicek who was killed on the first day of fighting. He is remembered by his fellows as the first free Czech soldier to carry the standard of the Czech lion. In addition to the 70 soldiers who lost their lives in the fighting of 1914–1918 another 136 Czechs were laid to rest there during the Second World War.

On the other side of the road, the cross of the Polish volunteers (paid for by donations from the Polish communities of Pas-de-Calais) pays tribute to those who "gave their lives for the resurrection of Poland and the victory of France." Despite being destroyed in 1940 and storm-damaged in 1967, the monument has always been rebuilt and shall continue to bear the motto Za wolność naszą i waszą which means "For our freedom and yours."

Source: Battlefields of Northern France

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