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France 1918: Defence of Amiens
Amiens, Amiens Cathedral
Heaps of charred timber
After the war Leo McCartin’s parents commemorated their son’s death by renaming their house, ‘Herleville’. Thus was one of the Bishop of Amiens’ Somme villages honoured in far away Geelong. Also sent to McCartin’s parents were his medals, including his ‘Victory Medal’ inscribed on which are the words ‘The Great War for Civilisation, 1914-1919’. During World War I, Allied propaganda made much of the destruction of historic buildings in Belgium and France by German shell fire and the words of the ‘Victory Medal’ carried this message suggesting that the forces of civilisation had triumphed over the forces of darkness and destruction.
The German advance of March and April 1918 on the Somme was aimed at Amiens, a great Allied railhead and base, and the great symbol of Amiens was its ancient cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. It was once described as ‘the Bible in stone’. The city was shelled by long range guns and subjected to air raids, and the population was temporarily evacuated. In 1914 the Germans had briefly occupied Amiens and after that the cathedral was prepared for war. It was stripped of its treasures and the choir and the superbly decorated west entrance were protected by sandbags. Eventually more than 2,000 buildings in Amiens were destroyed but no significant damage was done to the cathedral despite it being hit by nine bombs. A British war correspondent reported:
As the weeks of bombardment grew in number the signs of German fury became more plain. The cathedral, happily, suffered little. A small hole in the roof, some stained window glass broken, a buttress broken, the interior damaged here and there; nothing which cannot be repaired. But it will be a long time before the central part of Amiens is built up again.
There are blocks in which not a building has escaped. Blackened by fire, scarred by shell-bursts, hundreds of beautiful old structures have been turned into heaps of charred timber, shattered brickwork, or mere dust. Many were built chiefly of lath and plaster. These were literally blown away. I remember a bomb falling in those last days of March in the roadway of the Street of the Three Pebbles, as the main thoroughfare of the city is oddly named. The force of the explosion ripped the fronts off several of the old shops. Buildings of this character hit by a shell collapse and disappear.
Unnamed war correspondent, The War Illustrated, 7 September 1918, internet edition, www.greatwardifferent.com/Great_War/Devastated/Devastated_01.htm
© 2013 Department of Veterans' Affairs and Board of Studies NSW :: Last update - December 2010