The Great War 1914-1918: New International Memorial Opening at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette

A new International Memorial of the 1914-1918 Great War is to be inaugurated at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — Armistice Day — at a ceremony attended by French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Ring of Rememberance is inaugurated Novermber 11 2014 at NOTRE-DAME-DE-LORETTE

The Ring of Remembrance is inaugurated Novermber 11 2014 at NOTRE-DAME-DE-LORETTE

The Ring of Remembrance monument at  Notre-Dame-de-Lorette will be formally opened this Tuesday 11 November at 11 am. Both Departements of Nord and of Pas-de-Calais were respectively, by late 1918, the areas in France which had been most devastated by fighting, with the death of 580,000 soldiers on the ground and the destruction of almost 300 villages and towns.

Arras, like Reims and Verdun was subsequently designated a martyr city. In the immediate aftermath of the Great War, Nord-Pas-de-Calais was, among the regions which suffered the worst devastation; reporters of the time talked of the “Hell in the North”.

On November 11, 2014, and within the framework of the Centenary commemorations of the Great War, the International Memorial at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, near Arras, is to be inaugurated.  The Memorial has been built on a plateau, to the south-east of the French National Necropolis, the biggest French military cemetery in the country and was designed by the Philippe Prost a French architect ; a large ring on which 580,000 names of soldiers who died in the French Flanders and in the Artois region between 1914 and 1918 are engraved, regardless of nationality, rank or religion and in alphabetical order.

The Nord-pas-de-Calais, located in the north of France, bordering on Belgium, was, one of the main battlegrounds on western front in World War I . This was the scene of bloody combat between, firstly the French and Germans (1914-1918) and by the spring of 1915 troops of the German empire and those from Britain — English, Scots, Welsh and Irish troops along with forces from the British Empire: Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and India.

The memorial is a unique initiative, as unlike most national memorials, it lists all of the fallen during this the heart of the worst conflict of the 20th Century. According to its architect the ring has been conceived as a general reflection which does not aim to celebrate a claimed victory or stigmatise those defeated. Instead, it focuses on the shared suffering experienced by all soldiers, the mass death which characterised the wars of the industrial era and which, between 1914 and 1918, struck down a entire generation of young men, while equally reminding us of the grief which affected millions of families.

Story by:  Anita Rieu-Sicart
Monthly Subscription Print & Internet magazine about the Var

Inauguration Tuesday the 11th of November 2014 -THE RING OF REMEMBRANCE

NOTRE-DAME-DE-LORETTE  The Ring of Remembrance

NOTRE-DAME-DE-LORETTE The Ring of Remembrance

From the inauguration brochure and press pack:

A Nord – Pas-de- Calais Regional Council decision in 2011 has led to the building of  an exceptional memorial — one of the largest memorials in the world– on the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette site (municipality of Ablain-Saint- Nazaire, Pas-de-Calais) as part of the centenary commemorations of the Great War.

The 2.2 hectare site is located in close to the National Cemetery, the largest military cemetery in France and one of the major places of French remembrance. The monument, designed by architect Philippe Prost, is an object of great aesthetic and symbolic power. It evokes the mass deaths on the battlefields of French Flanders and Artois between 1914 and 1918, that sealed the fate of 580,000 men from around the world. These friends and former enemies are in this memorial reunited in posthumous brotherhood: their names will be listed in alphabetical order, regardless of their nationality, race or religion, friends and former foes all mixed together.

This aims to be a truly unique initiative outside the scope of the nation state frameworks that lay at the heart of the major European conflicts of the 20 Century.  By adopting the shape of a ring — a symbol of unity — the architect sought to emphasise the brotherhood that now exists between those who fought and died in the Great War. By placing part of the ellipse cantilevered over a void, he also wanted to highlight the fragility of a situation of unprecedented peace in the millennia-long history of an “Old Continent” where strife and conflict have long been present.

In today’s world dominated by individualism and overwhelmed by immediate reward and virtual reality, the decision to build an enduring monument is a desire to set in time the memory of very different men, with multiple manual or intellectual talents, whose contribution to the history of humanity was wiped out by a war of unprecedented violence.

The Notre-Dame-de-Lorette International Memorial does not celebrate the victors of the Great War; it evokes the suffering shared by all the combatants, men who, for the first time in History, were almost all able to read and write, and the grief that touched millions of families. It is also a message for the future directed at all the people on the planet, because it shows that war can give way to peace, to a better life for each individual.

Crossed by the front during the four years of the Great War, the departments of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais were the scene of bloody fighting that destroyed landscapes that had been inhabited for centuries.

NOTRE-DAME-DE-LORETTE - Trails of rememberance

NOTRE-DAME-DE-LORETTE – Trails of remembrance

A Brief History:
The Schlieffen plan sought to crush France by bypassing its lines of main fortifications in the East and then invading neutral Belgium. On 4 August 1914, the German army entered Belgium, seized Liege on the 7th and headed towards Paris; they broke through in three weeks.

The invader committed major atrocities against Belgian civilians causing a vast movement of populations on the roads, which spread into France; thousands of “northerners” left their homes to take refuge in the countryside or in Paris.

The French and British were defeated at Charleroi (21-23 August) and Mons (on the 23rd); these battles show the terrible ravages of new weapons (repeating rifles, machine guns, quick-firing guns). On 26 August, a British army corps tried to stop the enemy advance; the Battle of Le Cateau (Nord) was brief but deadly; the British lost 7,800 – more than Waterloo – and had to withdraw.

Shelled by German heavy artillery, the stronghold of Maubeuge, surrounded from 25 August, surrendered on 7 September; the Germans captured nearly 50,000 prisoners.

After stopping the German offensive at the Battle of the Marne in early September, the battles gradually moved northward, while the Germans set out to dig in on the Aisne and the Somme by burying themselves in the first trenches. They then sought to cut the route to Britain by occupying the ports of the North Sea and the English Channel. The “Race to the Sea” translated into very violent battles, around Arras, from 1 October, and west of Lille, occupied on 12 October. The Germans also seized most of the mining area, which produced, in 1913, half of France’s coal.

NOTRE-DAME-DE-LORETTE The Memorial Trail across the battlefields

NOTRE-DAME-DE-LORETTE The Memorial Trail across the battlefields

Most of the Nord department (Lille, Douai, Cambrai and Valenciennes) was placed under German occupation, for a period of 50 months. Arras was bombed by the Germans and its famous belfry collapsed on 21 October, but it remained in the hands of the Allies.  The German offensive was stopped in Belgian Flanders in mid-November, after the first battle of Ypres. The front froze for four years, from the North Sea to Switzerland, through the Nord and Pas-de-Calais from north to south, from Armentières to Bapaume

The year 1915 was marked by learning “modern warfare”, with increasingly massive use of artillery and attempted breakthroughs that led to the massacre of infantrymen. From 10 to 13 March 1915, the British, who enlisted Indian and Canadian troops, launched the first attack on the German lines in the area of Neuve-Chapelle, near Lille. It was a costly failure. The French triggered an offensive in Artois, on 9 May 1915, under the leadership of General Foch. For the first time, artillery was massively used to prepare the attacks. After a breakthrough by the Foreign Legion – in which a Swiss volunteer, Blaise Cendrars, fought – in the early hours of the assault, Vimy Ridge was again lost, reinforcements having arrived too late. The offensive was a failure, with high loss of life for insignificant territorial gains, with the exception of Notre-Damede- Lorette hill.

Fighting continued until the end of June; on the 16th, French artillery fired 300,000 shells just forward of Neuville-Saint-Vaast. Over two months, the Second Battle of Artois, which ended on 18 June, resulted in the loss of 143,000 French soldiers (killed or wounded). A third offensive in Artois, launched to coincide with an attack in Champagne, began on 25 September 1915. The French took the Souchez Spur, but once again failed to take the Vimy Ridge. The British, who committed, for the first time, the volunteer units of the “Kitchener Army”, moved into the mining basin to launch an attack on the village of Loos; it also marked the first British use of poison gas, the German army having been the first to use it in Ypres in April 1915.

After initial success, the attack was repulsed by fire from German machine-guns. The opening of the German offensive on Verdun, in February 1916, led to French troops leaving the Artois front. The British army took over and increased in size. During the Battle of the Somme, launched by the British and French on 1 July 1916, a secondary attack at Fromelles (Nord) on 19 July was a disaster for the Australian troops.  A mass grave, containing the bodies of 250 men, was rediscovered in 2008; scientific excavations and DNA comparisons have made it possible to identify half of them.

At the end of February 1917, the Germans withdrew some tens of kms to the south of Arras to a shortened and exceptionally well fortified line of defence, the “Siegfried Line”, baptised the “Hindenburg Line” by the Allies. The withdrawal was accompanied by mass and systematic destruction (razing of villages, churches, lines of communication, trees cut down, wells poisoned) as part of the Alberich Operation. The town of Bapaume was burnt to the ground; a time bomb destroyed the town hall and several dozen people were killed on 25 March. On 9 April 1917, the British launched the “Battle of Arras”, in the run-up to the major French offensive on the Chemin des Dames ridge.

The preparation was meticulous: the quarries under the town were transformed to shelter almost 25,000 soldiers and take them close to the enemy front line. The offensive, preceded by bombardment with a million shells, had some success initially, particularly with the taking of the Vimy Ridge by the Canadian divisions, one of the seminal events for this young nation. In contrast, the Australians suffered heavy losses during attacks on the village of Bullecourt, on the Hindenburg Line, in April and May 1917.

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The Battle of Arras ended on 16 June, again with strategic failure. The Battle of Cambrai, which began on 20 November 1917, brought with it major tactical innovations: mass use of tanks (more than 400) by the British army, which initially caused the German troops to panic, destruction of tanks by German artillery using flat trajectory fire, counterattacks conducted by welltrained troops using new combat techniques which enabled the Germans to take back the ground they had lost.
(Source: Yves Le Maner, The Great War in Nord – Pas-de-Calais (1914-1918), éditions La Voix du Nord, 2014, 440 pages)



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