Armistice Day/Veteran’s Day

Not far from Paris is the small town of Meaux. This is where the Museum of the Great War is located.  (For more information, please visit their website www.museedelagrandeguerre.eu/en.html.)  Everything in the museum came from a single private collection of World War I memorabilia.  The tour in the museum starts with the end of the previous conflict between France and Germany in 1870, and ends with the Treaty of Versailles in 1918.  Plan on a few hours at the museum to learn about the causes and effects of the war.

There were several causes of the Great War, among them the alliances that formed in Europe between England, France and Russia to confront Germany; also, there was an alliance between Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy.  Some other causes were the assassinations of Jean Jaurès, the leader of the French socialists, and the Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Isabella of Sarajevo.  The killing of Mr. Jaurès made it easier to rally the French workers to the national cause of war against Germany. The assassinations of the Crown Prince and his wife gave the excuse to declare war on Serbia.  Not long after, Russia mobilized their troops followed by France.  Germany declared war on Russia and France, then invaded Belgium which brought in England.  Germany then called on its alliance with Sarajevo and Italy, and boom.  All of Europe is at war.

The war raged for three years before America joined the fight.   It was the sinking of the Lusitania that was the impetus for joining the war effort.  Before that, America was refusing to join the war.

There was a huge push to produce more food, while consuming less and sending the surplus to save the French people.IMG_3916.jpg

The war quickly became stuck in the mud and trenches.  Conditions were bad at best and appalling at worst.  To give you an idea of what the trenches look like, there is a mock-up in the museum:IMG_3963.jpg

Above the trenches was “No man’s land”, or the space between the enemy trenches.  Many trenches were just yards apart, usually slightly further than one could throw a grenade. IMG_3969.jpg

To give you perspective from the trenches, sometimes soldiers would see this over the top of their bunker.  Not something to be happy about.IMG_3976.jpg

There was a large human cost to the war as well.  Thousands came home “shell shocked”, what we call PTSD today, and many thousands returned from the war wounded and maimed.  A new medical science had to be developed to cope with the injuries, and that is the field of prosthetics.  Every conceivable form of prostheses had to be developed for these former soldiers to even cope with life after the war.  Here is an image of the myriad forms of prosthetics developed.

After four long years of battle, the war ended on November 11, 1918, and the armistice was signed at 11:00am that morning, this became known as Armistice Day which we celebrate as Veteran’s Day today.  The treaty of Versailles was signed a few months later officially ended the war and set the stage for World War II.  Germany got the short end of the stick in the Treaty, they had to pay reparations to the rest of Europe, and rebuild their country at the same time.  This devastated their economy and allowed a young radical named Adolf Hitler to gain power in the country to rebuild the military, which was banned under the Treaty.

IMG_4097.jpgThis monument was built by the American Friends of France in 1932, and it was dedicated to memory and silent voices of those who gave their lives in the Battle of Marne, in September 1914.  This monument sits behind the Museum of the Great War.

A few miles away at Chateau-Thierry stands the American Memorial to the Great War. IMG_4114.jpgThe inscription reads: “This monument has been erected by the United States of America to commemorate the services of her troops and those of France who fought in this region during the World War.  It stands as a lasting symbol of the friendship and cooperation between the French and American Armies.”  The figures were sculpted by Alfred-Alphonse Bottiau, and represent Marianne (symbol of France) and Columbia (symbol of America) clasping hands to represent the lasting friendship between the two nations.

This monument was erected in 1930.IMG_4150.jpg

Underneath the monument is the American museum dedicated to the service of American troops in France during World War I.

A few kilometers away is Belleau Wood, the location of a fierce battle between the Americans and the Germans.  It is now the location of the US cemetery for World War I soldiers.  Sadly, we arrived just as they were getting ready to close the gates for the day. IMG_4228.jpgEvery soldier buried here received the Purple Heart individually, to their families posthumously, but there is one here for all the soldiers.IMG_4246.jpg

A stone’s throw from the American cemetery is the German cemetery for the Battle of Belleau Wood.

The white crosses in the background is the American Cemetery, and the German cemetery in the foreground.  Over 8,000 men are buried in the German cemetery, and about 67,000 men are buried in the American cemetery.

It was a very humbling experience to visit these locations and learn the history as it really happened.  My goal here is to convey a sense of history that normally isn’t discussed or viewed.  It’s my wish that everyone could visit these monuments, museums and cemeteries to gain a better understanding of our history so we don’t repeat it.  It’s also my wish to pay homage to these men for paying the ultimate sacrifice to pay for the freedom that exists in the world today.  I also wish to honor all those who have served and are serving in the Armed Forces today.

Happy Veteran’s Day,

Kelly

Normandy American Cemetery and Museum Colleville-sur-Mer, France

I’ve been wanting to post this for a while now, but life seems to be getting in the way (that and my internet connection is extremely slow). I also know I’ve had a couple of posts already about the American Cemetery in Normandy, located on the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. At the visitor center, there is an amazing museum that has artifacts and comprehensive displays of the history surrounding D-Day and what the costs were.

However, it was quite crowded there a couple of days before the 75th anniversary of D-Day, so we had quite a walk to get to the museum and cemetery. Along the way were vintage WWII vehicles, and a person well known for helping defeat Germany in the war, none other than Winston Churchill, of course this is a re-enactor, but hey, he looks the part.IMG_1986IMG_1991

The displays in the museum start with the occupying of France by Germany, how the French people were treated, and the Allies’ goal of liberating France.

It also has a replica of the Czech hedgehogs designed by Rommel as part of the “Atlantic Wall”. There were several layers of defense put in place all along the coast of the English Channel, here specifically are the coastal defenses.

The French Resistence played a major role in helping the Allies get intelligence about the occupying forces, their movements, etc., and they had to risk their lives to do so.  Even owning a radio was forbidden.

Did you know there was a training exercise for D-Day?  It was called Exercise Tiger, which had heavy casualties causing the US military to take actions for training so the actual invasion would be successful.

Operation Titanic was designed to take the focus off of the paratroopers landing in France, it consisted of dropping exploding dummies among troops to confuse the Germans.

There were displays of several US troops and their stories.  Here are three.

Hundreds if not thousands of civilians were also killed on D-Day and following the Allies’ arrival into France.  Saint-Lo was totally destroyed by air bombings in a matter of hours.  It was such an important crossroad that it was necessary to create a gap in German defenses.  I’ve read somewhere that the treasures from Mont Saint-Michel were taken to Saint-Lo for safe keeping but were destroyed in the bombings; however, I haven’t been able to verify that yet.

The human cost of the invasion was extreme: approximately 8,500 US and Allied troops were killed, wounded or went missing in action on D-Day alone.  Approximately 225,000 Allied troops were killed during the Normandy campaign, and about 18,000 French citizens were killed during this time as well.  The Germans suffered approximately 400,000 casualties during the liberation of Normandy.

Which brings us back to the American Cemetery.  In our history of engaging in war on foreign soil, we were never there for conquest or gain, only for freedom and liberation; all we ever asked for were plots of land to bury our gallant dead.

Omaha Beach

It’s hard to believe that I’m in Normandy, on Omaha Beach a couple of days before anniversary of D-Day. The weather was similar to the conditions of 5 June, 1944, raining, foggy and rough seas-not a good day for an invasion from the sea.

Yes, that is the ocean barely visible in the fog and rain. This is Omaha Beach off in the distance, taken from the American Cemetery

Rows upon rows of honored dead that fought and died for freedom for everyone. The cost was 8,500 lives given at these beaches so their brothers in arms could advance to save France, Germany and the rest of the world from a dictator trying to conquer the world. They deserve our remembrance and honor for their sacrifice.

There will be a huge gathering today (D-Day) at this cemetery of world leaders and other dignitaries to mark the 75th anniversary of Operation Overlord and mark the invasion of occupied France to liberate it from the enemy. This is also why we went there yesterday, so we wouldn’t have to deal with the crowds and security.

This is looking at the stage from the back row of the seats setup for this event. (Be glad you didn’t set these chairs up, just saying…)

In Bayeux while having breakfast, there were military personnel and police everywhere and a bagpipe band rehearsing nearby getting ready for the arrival of some dignitary. They were surrounding the entrance of Notre Dame cathedral (yes, there’s one here that dates back to William the Conquerer). I’ll do a post on this later.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Everywhere on the roads were WWII era jeeps, troop transports, officers transports, motorbikes, etc. it was almost like the liberation operation was still on going.

Later we went to Dead Man’s Corner and the D-Day Experience Museum.

I’ll do posts later on each of these separately. Needless to say they were fascinating and what went on here heart wrenching.

Enjoy,

Kelly