Pays de la Loire - part 2

During a long weekend in August 1997 I was able to visit some sites of Great War interest that I had found in the middle and upper Loire valley.

The chateaux of the Loire are among the finest of the "Glories of France". The Chateau of Chenonceau is one of the most beautiful and most famous, and is therefore a major tourist trap.  However, I was surprised to find out that the chateau is also a minor Great War site. The famous 65 yard long gallery spans the river Cher. During the Great War the owner, M. Gaston Menier, converted this gallery at his own expense into a temporary hospital and all the rooms were put to some special use. A memorial plaque in the gallery states that 2254 wounded soldiers were treated in the chateau.

Further downstream at Tours is the pleasingly understated Memorial Fountain to the AEF Services of Supply. The SOS was headquartered in the town and consisted of 640,000 men. The monument can be found near the southern end of the Pont Wilson in the town centre. The column which rises out of the centre of the fountain has four figures representing Administration, Construction, Procurement and Distribution, the four principal divisions of the SOS organisation. It is surmounted by a gilded life-size statue of a red Indian warrior who is releasing an American eagle. "American Armies and Battlefields in Europe" contains a picture of the memorial (p. 480).

Renault F17 with 37mm gun - 1918

The Museum's newly-restored Schneider

At Saumur, further downstream from Tours, is the Musée des Blindées, France's equivalent of Britain's Royal Armoured Corps Museum at Bovington. It, not surprisingly, has particularly good collections of French armour and of German armour captured in 1944. The Great War collection was, however, disappointing. This consists of a newly restored Schneider tank, a Renault FT 17 light tank, a "Soixante-quinze" 75mm artillery piece and a truck. I had hoped to see one of the large and ungainly St. Chamond tanks, but perhaps none of these have survived. I also felt that it was difficult to have a comprehensive collection of Great War armoured vehicles without a British tank of 1916. The museum has produced a book "L'Aube de la Gloire: les automitrailleuses et les chars français pendant la grande guerre" by Alain Gougaud. (pub 1987, price 220 FF, ISBN 2-904255-02-8) This describes the development of French armoured cars and tanks and their use in battle, and contains many photos and diagrams.

(Musée des Blindées, 1043, route de Fontevraud, 49400 Saumur. Tel: 02 41 53 06 99. Open daily 9 to 12 am and 2 to 6 pm.)

Copyright © Charles Fair, November, 1997.

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