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    Lest we forget: Buzancy Scottish cemetery in France…

     

    Dear readers,

    11 november 2013

    A number of celebrations have taken place yesterday and all day long today in many parts of the world  in memory of the soldiers who gave their life to preserve ours and, here, in France, the very moving ‘sonnerie aux morts’ still echoes in the night…

    Lest we forget…

    Many moving testimonies from the descendants of WWI soldiers have been heard today while documentaries and old photographies were being broadcasted in the media. A great campaign, ‘Europeana 1914-1918‘  has even been launched to collect family’s war souvenirs in order to share them on the Internet, in this great virtual library. There seems to be a rising interest about war history triggered and encouraged by the new media resources.

    It is as if all the invisible souls of the soldiers were wanting to communicate and make their message heard, lest their sacrifice be lost…

    And it’s only a beginning, for next year we’ll celebrate the centenary of WW I. A centenary which will coincide in 2014 with the 70 th anniversary of D-Day.

     

    The allied representatives at the signing of the armistice in Compiègne 11 novembre 1918

    The allied representatives at the signing of the armistice in Compiègne 11 novembre 1918

    The allied representatives at the signing of the armistice. Ferdinand Foch, second from right, seen outside his railway carriage in the forest of Compiègne.

    This photograph was taken in the forest of Compiègne after reaching an agreement for the armistice that ended World War I. This railcar was given to Ferdinand Foch for military use by the manufacturer, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. Foch is second from the right.

    La ‘Der des Der’ (the very last one), as people used to say at the end of World War One, hoping that this dreadful conflict would be the last one. In 1870, a conflict had already opposed France to Prussia.

    Few families had been spared and indeed most villages have their war monument with endless lists of soldiers killed.  Many people were grief-stricken and destroyed forever.  I’ve heard that at one time in Verdun each square centimetre of ground was hit by a shell. No hope to escape!

    Lest I forget, I try to collect my memories…

    My own family was not spared in WWI…

    There was that great portrait of a handsome soldier in uniform which hang on the wall of our bedroom at my grandmother’s. When I was a little girl I didn’t know who the soldier was but I was fascinated by his portrait. Many years later, I learned he was my grandmother’s first husband who had disappeared one day, somewhere in the ‘Champ d’honneur’… they only found him years later, thanks to his plaque, on the very place where he had been buried alive with his bayonet. My aunt, now aged 103,  hardly remembers her father.  She first saw him when he came home during a few days’  leave. Then she became a ‘pupille de la Nation’ (war orphan). The name of my grandmother’s husband can be read among other ones in a long list of names, on the war monument which stands in the little churchyard of his village. And there is another list of names on the monument.

     

    In Flanders Fields The Poppies Grow John McCrae

     

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
          Between the crosses, row on row,
       That mark our place; and in the sky
       The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
       Loved and were loved, and now we lie
             In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
       The torch; be yours to hold it high.
       If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
             In Flanders fields.

    The image above is an illustration of John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields The Poppies Grow ‘ by Ernest Clegg for a limited edition.

    While recently travelling in the French region of  Picardy, in the North of the country, we stopped at a crossroad where we could see a war monument and a road sign indicating Buzancy. The monument wears the American emblem of the eagle and its plaque reads:

    First U.S. Division

    Killed in action

    Soissons

    followed by a long long list of soldiers…

    Buzancy road sign © 2013 Scotiana

    Buzancy road sign © 2013 Scotiana

    Buzancy was the place where we wanted to go for I had heard that there was a Scottish war cemetery there. Buzancy must have been a very strategic point for  a big battle already took place here in 1870.

    I’ve found an interesting Wikipedia article about the battle which took place in May 1918, not far from the cemetery. Buzancy, is one of the many places in France where we shoud remember and sing ‘Scotland the Brave’…

     

    Buzancy cemeteryBuzancy cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

    Buzancy cemeteryBuzancy cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

     

     At the end of May 1918, the Imperial German Army’s attempt to strike for Paris in the Third Battle of the Aisne swept over Soissons and its hinterland, including Buzancy. Eventually checked by the resistance of various Allied forces, the advance nevertheless left a threatening salient between Soissons and Rheims. Realising the opportunity for a decisive victory by “pinching-off” the salient, the Allied supremo General Foch ordered a counteroffensive across its “neck” from both sides, commencing very successfully on the Soissons side on 18 July 1918, assisted very effectively by Renault FT-17 light tanks. The Germans, realising the enormity of what was at stake, defended the two strategic hinges of the salient with utmost determination in order to win sufficient time to withdraw the remainder of their forces from within the (shrinking) pocket.

     

    Buzancy First US division war monument © 2013 Scotiana

    Buzancy First US division war monument © 2013 Scotiana

    The initial thrust towards Buzancy was entrusted to the already heavily-committed US 1st Division, to whose memory a monument now stands prominently by the side of the D1 Château-Thierry to Soissons main road near the turn-off up to the village. The battle-weary American infantry were relieved in some haste and confusion during the night of 22nd/23rd July by the 15th (Scottish) Division, one of the four divisions of the British XXII Corps which a few days previously had been rushed to the salient as insurance against a German breakthrough to Paris.(The first task of the division was to bury the many American dead still lying in swathes in the cornfields where they had fallen.) The Corps command itself moving further south, the 15th and 34th divisions came under direct French Army command. Supported by US 1st Division heavy artillery pending arrival of their own, the 15th Division’s first attack northwards of Buzancy in the coming dawn was poorly co-ordinated, suffered badly from unsuppressed machine-gun fire, and had only limited success.

    After a move sideways—– to directly face Buzancy, shortly after noon on 28 July 1918, the Scots, accompanied by a French flamethrower section, and with the support of French heavy artillery in addition to their own, launched a surprise attack eastwards up the slope towards the chateau and the village itself, in conjunction with French forces to its right. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting around the chateau and through the narrow, sloping streets ensued, the attackers of the former having to scale its boundary walls on the shoulders of their comrades. Unfortunately, the Division’s rapid advance left its flanks mercilessly exposed, the French being unable to make similar progress. As the afternoon progressed, a strong counterattack developed by the German 5th Inf. and 50th Res. divisions, and the Scots found themselves slowly being forced to give up their hard-won positions, and by the evening had made a fighting retreat back to where they had started. A few days later the Germans withdrew, their salient having been completely reduced.

    As an example of the grim nature of the battle, two bodies were found in one street locked together, one of a German officer with revolver in his hand, the other of his victim, a Scottish soldier clutching his rifle with bayonet which he had run through his opponent’s body.

    Scottish graves in Buzancy cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

    Scottish graves in Buzancy cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

    The commander of the relieving French division, General C. Gassoins, on establishing his headquarters in Buzancy, seeing the still-fresh aftermath of the attack and receiving reports of what had occurred, was so impressed that he ordered the immediate construction of a memorial to the 15th Division on the position of the soldier’s body found furthest forward on the battlefield, in the open fields beyond the village.

    Ici fleurira toujours... Buzancy cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

    Ici fleurira toujours… Buzancy cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

    On its plain granite plinth is sculpted a circular bas-relief showing an intertwined rose and thistle, below which is inscribed (in French):

    ICI FLEURIRA TOUJOURS

    LE CLORIEUX CHARDON D’ÉCOSSE

    PARMI LES ROSES DE FRANCE

    and on the side

    The 17th French Infantry Division
    to
    The 15th Scottish Infantry Division

    A Scottish Soldier Buzancy cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

    A Scottish Soldier Buzancy cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

    “Here will flourish for ever

    the glorious thistle of Scotland

    among the roses of France”

    * * *


    It was the only monument erected in the field during the First World War by a French unit dedicated to a British one. It was a visible manifestation of the significant resurgence which the various actions at the time of XXII Corps brought about in the French command’s faith in the continued fighting ability of its British ally, a faith which had lately been badly shaken by the dramatic British retreat at the start of the German Kaiserschlacht offensive.

    The monument was later removed from the position near the crest of the ridge where first erected and placed in the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission within the precincts of the military cemetery on the western edge of the village, where those of the 15th (Scottish) Division who fell in the action are interred.

     

    A ray of sun on the Scottish graves in Buzancy cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

    A ray of sun on the Scottish graves in Buzancy cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

     

     

    Buzancy Scottish war cemetery  © 2013 Scotiana

    Buzancy Scottish war cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

    Buzancy cemetery J. Robertson's grave © 2013 Scotiana

    Buzancy cemetery J. Robertson’s grave © 2013 Scotiana

     

    Let us end our remembrance day with one of the most famous war songs and sung by tenor John McCormack,  one of the greatest Irish singers and a great favourite of Iain and Margaret 😉

    A bientôt. We have still so many things to share with you 😉

    Mairiuna

    A row of Scottish graves in Buzancy cemetery  © 2013 Scotiana

    A row of Scottish graves in Buzancy cemetery © 2013 Scotiana

     

     

     

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