Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Butte des Zouaves 1914 and 2013

 2013 sees the 182nd anniversary of the creation of the regiments of zouaves in the French Army.

An annual ceremony takes place around Nampcel and Quennevières (Oise), on the nearest weekend to the anniversary; in 2013, it took place on Sunday 24th March. Wreaths are laid at the monuments to the 2nd Zouaves at Quennevières, and to the 9th Zouaves at nearby Carlepont, as well as a ceremony of commemoration at the Butte de Zouaves.

In September this year, a monument and memorial garden will be inaugurated at the Butte de Zouaves to commemorate all zouaves killed in action in all of France's wars. The Butte itself formed part of the German front line in late 1914. On December 21st, a French offensive towards Puisaleine Farm, although heavily supported by artillery, managed to achieve only a toe-hold in the German positions. Enemy reinforcements soon cut off the attacking troops, and most were killed or captured. An explosion on the Butte buried a large number of the French attackers, belonging to the 2nd Zouaves; the exact cause of the explosion, whether a mine or an accident, remains unknown. Of the whole attack, the regimental history (on Gallica) commented that these attacks were the bloody proof that attrition and suffering had been unable to tame the mystique of the offensive. The regimental war diaries do not appear to have survived.

Although a historic monument, the area near the Butte des Zouaves site has been threatened recently by a proposal to create a landfill site close by. Originally proposed in 2009, three years of protesting have had no effect on the department prefect, and he gave his go-ahead at the end of 2012. A local news programme deals with it here.

The 2nd Zouaves was originally raised in 1835. In 1914, it created a régiment de marche from its 1st, 5th and 11th Battalions. The regiment formed part of 73rd Brigade, 37th Division. The 9th Zouaves was formed in 1914 from three battalions serving in Morocco, 1/4th and 2/ and 3/1st Zouaves, and was originally known as the régiment de marche de la 3e brigade du Maroc. It was later renamed as 9th Régiment de marche de Zouaves. The regiment was attached to 37th Division until April 1915, when it was transferred to 153rd Division, with which it served for the remainder of the war.

Information about the Nampcel / Quennevières ceremonies can be found on the site of the Union Nationale des Zouaves, here. The proposed Butte de Zouaves monument is covered here. A walk (2-3 hours, 6.2km) covering sites connected with the Great War around the nearby village of Tracy-le-Mont is here. A proposal to create a Great War museum in Tracy is here. The excellent Marsouins, Chacals et Turcos website covers all three arms of service - colonial troops, zouaves and Algerian tirailleurs - in great detail.

Pictures: the ceremony at Quennevières in 2012 from collectifrance40.free.fr; newspaper cutting from pages14-18.mesdiscussions.net; 'zouaves attacking at Quennevières' from an old postcard.