En route to the Chemin des Dames, I went to look at some sites that do not appear in many battlefield guides, but most of which appear in the new 'Première Guerre Mondiale des Flandres a l'Alsace'. These sites are found a few miles south of Soissons near the D1 which leads to Chateau Thierry. Most are marked on the IGN 1:100,000 (green series) Map 9 Paris-Laon.
Parcy-Tigny German cemetery was the reason for my first halt. The stark sombre black crosses and mass grave mark the last resting places of 4,200 men who were killed in July 1918 as the allies advanced eastwards. This cemetery is found on the D83 about half a mile south-west of Hartennes-et-Taux on the D1.
In the field beside the cemetery is a memorial to the French Fifth Cavalry Division which is in a rather poor state of repair. This division was notable for the raid which it carried out behind the lines of the German First Army between 8 and 11 September 1914. The map volume that accompanies the British Official History, 'France and Belgium 1914 vol. 1' shows the movements of this division which attacked some German columns in Villers-Cotterets forest. The knowledge that a French unit was wandering around in the rear area of his army no doubt caused its commander, von Kluck, some concern, and probably contributed to some of his decisions at the time. The memorial marks approximately the furthest point behind the lines that the division reached.
Just east of Parcy on the D480 is a large boulder which is the Memorial to the Regiment Infanterie Colonial de Maroc (RICM). This stone marks the furthest point of this regiment's advance at the head of Mangin's army on 19 July 1918. The stone also bears a plaque which points to where Joost van Vollenhoven, a captain with the regiment and the governor-general of French West Africa, was killed that day.
Between Tigny and Villemontoire is La Raperie British Cemetery which contains the graves of 600 men from the 15th (Scottish) and 34th divisions who fell in this area in July 23rd to August 2nd 1918. At the cross roads with the D804, 150 yards away is a memorial to the French 67th Regiment d'Infantrie, the regiment of Soissons. On it is a bas-relief which represents its soldiers taking part in the assault on the ruins of Villemontoire, with the steeples of Soissons showing in the distance. This recalls the taking of the village by the 2nd battalion of the Regiment on the 25 July 1918. This monument was inaugurated 21 September 1938, but was destroyed by the Germans on 1 November 1940 and reconstructed after the war. Since 10 June 1945 a plaque at the base has denounced those "qui avaient la prétention d'effacer l'histoire."
On the D1, by the turning for Buzancy is a memorial to the US 1st Infantry Divison. This consists of a concrete pillar surmounted by a shell, on which is perched an eagle. Bronze plaques list the division's 2,213 killed. On the hillside to the north-west of the village is Buzancy British Cemetery which contains the graves of 335 men. These were also men of the 15th (Scottish) and 34th divisions who fell in the fight for the village 23rd-28th July 1918. The British Official History, 'France and Belgium 1918 vol. 3' contains a chapter on this action.
The cemetery also shelters a Memorial to the 15th (Scottish) Division which is unusual in that it was built in August 1918 by the engineers of the French 17th Division on the orders of General Gassouin, the divisional GOC. A simple stone in a pyramid shape has a thistle as its only decoration and the inscription "Ici fleurira toujours le glorieux chardon d'Ecosse parmi les roses de la France." (Here the glorious thistle of Scotland will flower forever among the roses of France.) The French General wrote to his Scottish counterpart: "this monument was erected on the highest point of the plateau where we found the body of the Scottish soldier who had advanced the farthest." (See 'France and Belgium 1918 vol. 3', Appendix XVII for a full transcription of this letter.)
From the cemetery one can see a ruined and rusting cast iron gateway. This is the entrance to Buzancy Chateau which looks as if it has been a ruin since the 1918 fighting. It was taken by the Scots on the morning of 28th July, but outflanked and outnumbered by German counterattacks, it was lost again late that afternoon. According to the Official History, the 15th Division "which had been in most of the heavy encounters of the War since Loos in Sept 1915, regarded the action on this day as the severest and 'most gruelling' of them all". An intriguing building, it appears to have grown almost organically, with stables, sculleries and other outbuildings sprouting out of a low cliff face. The long evening shadows combined with knowledge of the intensity of the fighting made the ruin a very atmospheric place.
Copyright © Charles Fair, May, 1997.
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