Pays de la Loire

While based in Brittany last summer, I made a short visit to St Nazaire which is just across the border in the neighbouring region - the Loire. Since then I have found out about some other sites in this region, notably at Tours and the Ile d'Yeu, which I hope to visit one weekend this summer. You may be interested to visit these places in between the chateaux and the vineyards....

Some Great War sites in the Pays de Loire

The port which sits at the entrance to the Loire, St. Nazaire, played a role in the Great War for the BEF. The British Official History "France and Belgium 1914" vols. 1 and 2 refers to it (see "bases" in the index) as it was the main base for the BEF in September and October 1914. At the time of the Battle of the Marne the supply routes to Le Havre and the channel ports were at risk, so the whole of the base facilities were moved to St. Nazaire in the space of four days. An impressive feat of logistics. Lyn Macdonald's "1914" also includes an account of activity at the port. Toutes-Aides Communal Cemetery in the town contains the graves of 82 Old Contemptibles (see the photo in "The Silent Cities"). One of the base hospitals must have been located in the town for those few weeks.

In 1917 and 1918 St Nazaire was one of the main ports of entry for AEF men and supplies, and was Headquarters of Base Section No.1. One hundred yards or so offshore in the bay is the very impressive Monument aux Americains. This consists of a 4.5 metre high bronze sculpture (by Mrs Gertrude V. Whitney) which surmounts a 10 metre high rock pillar.

The sculpture is of a doughboy, arms outstretched and a sword in the right hand, who is standing on the back of a giant eagle which has its wings outspread as if it has just landed. (See the photo on p.524 of "American Armies and Battlefields in Europe".) On the promenade facing the statue are several plaques which list all the ships and AEF units that comprised the first American convoy.

The town itself consists of uninspiring post-war concrete since it was flattened by allied bombers in WWII. Their target was of course the docks which are dominated by the awesome concrete U-boat pens. The dock complex was also the objective of the famous commando raid of (I think) 1942: a monument commemorating the raiders and a gun from HMS  Campbelltown can be found on the seafront near the American Monument.

The entrance to the U-boat complex houses the "Espadon" a French 1960s submarine which is now part of a maritime museum. Quite by chance, in the entrance to the museum I found a plaque to the Canadian troops who passed through St Nazaire in the Great War.

Copyright © Charles Fair, May, 1997.

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