More Little-Known 1914 areas -
Penchard, Vareddes, Meaux.

I had first visited this area in October 1996. Since then I had acquired both the Michelin Guide 27 The Marne 191427 and the IGN 1:25,000 map Meaux (Top 25 series 2513OT) which had revealed several other sites that would be worth visiting.

The hill at Penchard dominates the battlefield and was where the German artillery was sited as the French counterattacked. The hill itself was stormed by the Moroccan Brigade of 45 Division on 5 September However, they were forced to retire and the French were not able to secure the hill until the following day. The map revealed a "Tombe Militaire" near the road that runs past the southern edge of Penchard Wood. This turned out to be a newly-restored private memorial to Captain Guy Hugot-Derville who was killed at the head of his company of Moroccans. The memorial also commemorates his two brothers who were killed later in the war.

The cemetery at Chambry was the scene of bitter fighting in September 1914. The Michelin Guide has contemporary photographs of the cemetery, one of which clearly shows that it was an important strongpoint. One photo shows that the defenders put loopholes in the stone walls so that they could fire from cover. Today the visitor will find the far wall of the cemetery in a state unchanged since 1914, with a row of evenly spaced loopholes as a silent witness to the struggle. The cemetery has been demolished, except for one six foot long segment which has been left to stand free in the middle of the cemetery. This segment has two loopholes, between which is a Plaque to the 45th North African Division. At the foot of this wall is the tomb of one of its officers.

The nearby large village of Vareddes was occupied by the Germans during the battle of the Ourq. The Michelin Guide has a picture of German troops sitting on the steps of the Town Hall. According to the guide, the Germans removed several hostages from the village, and several of these men died in captivity. The Town Hall appears to have changed little since 1914, with the exception of a large plaque - the War Memorial - affixed to the front of the building. It lists all the civilian casualties of the war, including all the hostages mentioned in The Michelin Guide.

Meaux has a very attractive town centre of narrow streets clustered round a cathedral on the Northern bank of the Marne. At one time it was apparently known as the French equivalent of Henley-on-Thames. The cathedral was shut when we visited. The BEF retreated through the town on 2 and 3 September, blowing up the bridges as it went. The town was otherwise spared destruction in 1914. Unfortunately postwar development has not been so kind and the southern bank has been ruined by some nasty concrete monstrosities.

Meaux in 1914 - a scene remarkably unchanged today

Copyright © Charles Fair, April, 1997.

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