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World War One


A HILLTOP ON THE MARNE

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A HILLTOP ON THE MARNE

By Mildred Aldrich

Being Letters Written June 3-September 8, 1914

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Note To Tenth Impression

"The author wishes to apologize for the constant use of the word English in speaking of the British Expedition to France. At the beginning of the war this was a colloquial error into which we all fell over here, even the French press. Everything in khaki was spoken of as "English," even though we knew perfectly well that Scotch, Irish, and Welsh were equally well represented in the ranks, and the colors they followed were almost universally spoken of as the "English flag." These letters were written in the days before the attention of the French press was called to this error of speech, which accounts for the mistake's persisting in the book."

La Creste, Huiry,

France, February, 1916.

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"August 3, 1914.

Well—war is declared.

I passed a rather restless night. I fancy every one in France did. All night I heard a murmur of voices, such an unusual thing here. It simply meant that the town was awake and, the night being warm, every one was out of doors.

All day to-day aeroplanes have been flying between Paris and the frontier. Everything that flies seems to go right over my roof. Early this morning I saw two machines meet, right over my garden, circle about each other as if signaling, and fly off together. I could not help feeling as if one chapter of Wells's "War in the Air" had come to pass. It did make me realize how rapidly the aeroplane had developed into a real weapon of war. I remember so well, no longer ago than Exposition year,—that was 1900,—that I was standing, one day, in the old Galerie des Machines, with a young engineer from Boston. Over our heads was a huge model of a flying machine. It had never flown, but it was the nearest thing to success that had been accomplished—and it expected to fly some time. So did Darius Green, and people were still skeptical. As he looked up at it, the engineer said: "Hang it all, that dashed old thing will fly one day, but I shall probably not live to see it."

He was only thirty at that time, and it was such a few years after that it did fly, and no time at all, once it rose in the air to stay there, before it crossed the Channel. It is wonderful to think that after centuries of effort the thing flew in my time—and that I am sitting in my garden to-day, watching it sail overhead, like a bird, looking so steady and so sure. I can see them for miles as they approach and for miles after they pass. Often they disappear from view, not because they have passed a horizon line, but simply because they have passed out of the range of my vision-? becoming smaller and smaller, until they seem no bigger than a tiny bird, so small that if I take my eyes off the speck in the sky I cannot find it again. It is awe-compelling to remember how these cars in the air change all military tactics. It will be almost impossible to make any big movement that may not be discovered by the opponent.

Just after breakfast my friend from Voulangis drove over in a great state of excitement, with the proposition that I should pack up and return with her. She seemed alarmed at the idea of my being alone, and seemed to think a group of us was safer. It was a point of view that had not occurred to me, and I was not able to catch it. Still, I was touched at her thoughtfulness, even though I had to say that I proposed to stay right here. When she asked me what I proposed to do if the army came retreating across my garden, I instinctively laughed. It seems so impossible this time that the Germans can pass the frontier, and get by Verdun and Toul. All the same, that other people were thinking it possible rather brought me up standing. I just looked at the little house I had arranged such a little time ago—I have only been here two months......... "

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"At the end of August 1914, the three armies of the German invasion's northern wing were sweeping south towards Paris. The French 5th and 6th Armies and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were in retreat. General Alexander von Kluck, commander of the German Ist Army, was ordered to encircle Paris from the east. Expecting the German army to capture Paris, the French government departed for Bordeaux. About 500,000 French civilians also left Paris by the 3rd September.

Joseph Joffre, the Commander-in-Chief of the French forces, ordered his men to retreat to a line along the River Seine, south-east of Paris and over 60km south of the Marne. Joffre planned to attack the German Ist Army on 6th September and decided to replace General Charles Lanrezac, the commander of the 5th Army, with the more aggressive, General Franchet D'Esperey. The commander of the BEF,Sir John French, agreed to join the attack on the German forces.

General Michel Maunoury and the French 6th Army attacked the German Ist Army on the morning of 6th September. General von Kluck wheeled his entire force to meet the attack, opening a 50km gap between his own forces and the German 2nd Army led by General Karl von Bulow. The British forces and the French 5th now advanced into the gap that had been created splitting the two German armies.

For the next three days the German forces were unable to break through the Allied lines. At one stage the French 6th Army came close to defeat and were only saved by the use of Paris taxis to rush 6,000 reserve troops to the front line. On 9th September General Helmuth von Moltke, the German Commander in Chief, ordered General Karl von Bulow and General Alexander von Kluck to retreat. The British and French forces were now able to cross the Marne. Despite encountering little opposition, the advance was slow and the armies covered less than twelve miles on that first day. This enabled Kluck's Ist Army to reunite with Bulow's forces at the River Aisne.

By the evening of 10th September, the Battle of the Marne was over. During the battle, the French had around 250,000 casualties. Although the Germans never published the figures, it is believed that Geman losses were similar to those of France. The British Expeditionary Force lost 12,733 men during the battle.

The most important consequence of the Battle of the Marne was that the French and British forces were able to prevent the German plan for a swift and decisive victory. However, the German Army was not beaten and its successful retreat ended all hope of a short war."

 

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