Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Delvert in action: Ethe and afterwards

Ethe military cemetery, decorated for the centenary of the battle
In the days following the battle of Ethe, the regiment wandered back and forth for a few days, as the French tried to position themselves to halt the German advance.

The 101st's war diary does not make much of the regiment's casualties. The only references is a few days later on 27th August, when the strengths of the three battalions are given - 1st Battalion 9 officers, 701 men, 2nd Battalion 2 officers, 229 men and 3rd Battalion 9 officers, 760 men - a little over 1,700 men, instead of the wartime establishment of around 2,750. On the same day, Captain Lasnet arrived with four companies of replacements from the depot.

Major Louis Laplace
As a single battalion faced with a brigade, moving away from his supports, Major Louis Laplace and the 2nd Battalion were on a hiding to nothing. The commander of 2nd Battalion was a career soldier, who had joined as a volunteer in 1883, obtaining a commission in 1889 via Saint-Maixent, and served with 49th Infantry, 66th Infantry and 3rd Zouaves.

Thirty-two men from the regiment are buried in Bleid (including Laplace), and another man in Gomery. In Gomery is a memorial to 60 unnamed French soldiers, also buried there. The majority of the 101st's casualties were buried in a cemetery at Signeulx. But they were exhumed in 1921-22 when the cemetery was closed, and reburied in the cemetery at Rossignol. The names of the casualties occupy five melancholy pages in the regimental history.

The monument to the battle
The battle made little impact in the local newspapers back in Eure-et-Loir, even though it involved a local regiment. The Journal de Chartres of 23rd August reports that there were now no German soldiers on French territory, but that the build-up of enemy forces in Belgium continued - Brussels and Liége were occupied and Namur besieged. Meanwhile the Prefect of the département had banned the sale of alcohol. The following day's newspaper reports a battle in progress 'somewhere in Belgium', and wounded are being transported to Maubeuge. Meanwhile, four hospitals were being organised in Dreux - one in the rue Saint-Denis, a temporary one in the Collège des filles, place Mésirard, a Red Cross hospital at Mademoiselle Riberou's school, and a hospital of the Dames de France at the Collège des garçons. This amounted to 350 beds. 

Part of the centenary commemorations
Only on the 25th do we get a hint: under the sub-head 'Our troops have briefly abandoned their offensive' do we read, 'our losses have been severe. But it would be premature to count them up.' Every day, wounded men were arriving at the station in Chartres, but the paper didn't want to mention them for fear of upsetting people with relatives away in the Army. But prisoners, on their way to camps on the Atlantic coast, well, they could be mentioned. Readers were reminded to give them only what was strictly necessary, and not to forget that these were Germans, 'that is to say, savages, for whom we should just show pity.' So, just a mixture of official propaganda and press releases. The other main newspaper of the départment, Le Progrès, offered similar fare, its strapline 'The regional republican journal' the only clue that its politics might be any different from the Journal.

Casualty lists were not published as a matter of course, for fear of damaging civilian morale. Both Journal and Progrès tell anyone wanting news of a loved one in the Army to apply for news via the local mairie. But there were other, more informal means of obtaining news. Elsewhere in France, the prefect of the département of Vaucluse complained, 'personal letters arrive in the villages every day from soldiers telling their correspondents that comrades or neighbours have been killed or wounded. Families are plunged into despair by these roundabout, unofficial death notices and they complain vehemently either to the maires, or to their elected representatives, or to my administration.' And while the Journal had its own reasons for not mentioning convoys of wounded soldiers, these too could disturb the even tenor of a prefect's life, as the incumbent in Haute-Vienne found out: 'The wounded often spread alarming news and in this regard we need to take some extreme and urgent measures. Forbid anyone, whoever they may be, from entering hospitals or medical units, with the exception of medical staff. Forbid any of these staff from talking about what is happening and what is said inside. There are too many women in the hospitals and medical units. And wounded officers taken in by private individuals should also observe silence.'

Pictures of Ethe 2014 come from 1914-18.be . The picture of Laplace comes from L'Illustration.

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