The Ecole de Guerre is at the opposite end of the Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower. This is the famous French equivalent of the British staff college at Camberley. Petain was an instructor here before 1914, with de Gaulle numbering among his pupils, an ironic link in view of later events. In front of the Ecole is a fine statue of Marshal Joffre, mounted on his horse. The plinth has an inscription about the Battle of the Marne.
Nearby is the Hotel des Invalides - the most famous military museum in France. The Marne taxis were marshalled here before being loaded with troops and driven off to the Battle of the Ourcq. A French magazine that I have has a photo of some of the 400 taxis lined up on the Esplanade des Invalides, (the large open space that separates the building from the Seine) with the Hotel itself in the background. I was able to get an almost identical present day shot. The Invalides was a military hospital during the Great War. Part of the complexe still serves as one today and is France's near equivalent of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea.
The main cloistered courtyard, or Cour d'Honneur, is open to the public. In certain places one can climb up to the first floor and walk round the cloisters. Here there are about 40 memorial plaques which commemorate different divisions and regiments, the majority from 1914-18. Some commemorate specific national and ethnic groups that served with the French Army - Polish, Dutch, Moroccan, Breton and so on. One commemorates the American philanthropist Anne Morgan who provided aid to France in both World Wars and whose chateau at Blerancourt (north-east of Compiegne) is now a museum. In one of the stairwells is a surviving Marne taxi - a two cylinder Renault - that apparently is awaiting full restoration.
Leading off one end of the courtyard is the church of St Louis, the Soldiers' church. In an alcove to the right of the entrance is a Great War memorial to generals killed in battle. I counted 41. A nearby plaque lists about 15 generals who died of wounds, with Marshal Manoury at the head. Another plaque lists those generals who died in accidents, of sickness or of natural causes, including Marshal Gallieni (commanded the Army of Paris during the Marne) and General Grossetti (commanded the 42nd D.I. near Mondemont during the Marne). I believe these figures do not include regimental commanders, I think full colonels in the French Army, who were equivalent to brigadiers in the British Army. It would be interesting to know how these figures compare with the list of killed and wounded BEF officers of general rank listed in 'Bloody Red Tabs' by Maddox and Davies. The church also contains a memorial to the French Army nurses.
Up to this point, Les Invalides are free. If one wishes to see more, one has to pay 37 FF. This gains one entrance to the museum. Les Invalides have been undergoing restoration for the last decade, with further work scheduled for the next couple of years. Through the windows I noticed two small courtyards that are full of rusting WWI era artillery pieces and trench mortars: I believe these are due to be opened to the public in due course. Many of the galleries have been renovated to modern standards of presentation since my first visit in 1991. The collections of medieval and oriental arms and armour are among the finest in the world and must compare well with those in Britain's Royal Armouries.
The Great War gallery is disappointing and has not yet been renovated. The objects and paintings are in chronological order, but there is nothing to link them and tell the story of the war. There are, for example, many excellent paintings by the war artists Georges Scott and Francois Flameng, which feature places such as the Butte de Vauquois, Hurtebise Farm, Notre Dame de Lorette and Carency. I also noticed a display about Corporal Peugeot, the first French casualty of the war and a painting showing the storming of the chateau at Mondement by the zouaves of the 45 DI on 9 September 1914. The net effect is that of a collection of disjointed images and unrelated facts which demand that, in order to make sense of everything, the visitor has a reasonable knowledge of the Great War and Western Front. A reasonable command of the French language is a useful asset too. If this is the only gallery you want to see, I would recommend saving your money and coming back in two or three years by which time it should have been renovated. In contrast the WWII display appeared to have been newly reopened and is laid out in a modern style which aims to educate the visitor.
The ticket also gives one entrance to the L'Eglise du Dome. This contains the Tomb of Napoleon: the emperor's remains being placed in it in 1861. He is surrounded by several other famous soldiers such as Vauban. Foch is the only representative from the Great War.
Behind Les Invalides, on the south side, is the Place Vauban. It contains a Statue of General Gallieni, the Governor of Paris, who I have mentioned previously in connection with the Ourcq battlefield. The place also has a Statue of General Fayolle who commanded the French Sixth Army in 1916 when it took part in the Battle of the Somme. Two hundred yards or so south of the Invalides on the Avenue de Breteuil (just behind the church of St François-Xavier) is a Statue of General Mangin. The plinth lists his military service and commands from the 19th Century, the command of the 5eme D.I. in 1915, Verdun, the Chemin des Dames in 1917 (Nivelle Offensive) and the command of the 10th Army in July 1918 (2nd Marne) during the counterattack a few miles SW of Soissons. It finishes with the liberation of Metz on 19 November 1918 and explains that this was a particularly appropriate act for him since both his parents were from Lorraine.
A few blocks away, near the Western end of the Boulevard St. Germain, is the Ministere de la Guerre. The wall near the main entrance shows clear signs of bomb damage. An inscription states that this was caused by a bomb dropped by a German bomber on 11 March 1918.
Copyright © Charles Fair, May, 1997.
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