Reminding the French: Battle of Amiens Centenary 8th August 2018

After four years of desperate struggle on the 400 mile-long Western Front from Ostend on the Belgian coast to Basel on the French-German-Swiss border by August 1918, the striking power of the British Armies had become the mightiest of the four Allies – the British Empire, France, Belgium, USA – confronting the Germans and Austrians.

The British 4th Army’s victory at the battle of Amiens (August 8th to 11th) was indeed the turning point of the long war on the on the Western Front[1] which led directly to the final defeat of Germany on November 11th 1918. The British, under pressure from Woodrow Wilson the US President, allowed the Germans to believe it was an Armistice. This appellation entered the language right through to recent times. It allowed Hitler and the Nazi Party to pretend that the peace terms imposed on Germany at the Treaty of Versailles were not commensurate with an Armistice which has connotations of two roughly equal sides just agreeing to stop fighting[2].

At the highest levels of Government evidently, the French have not shown much interest in the commemoration, mainly one suspects because French efforts were on the far right flank of the 4th Army in the direction of Montdidier, by which name they usually refer to the whole action.

For its part the BBC did its best to play up to French sensibilities by constant references to the “Allied” efforts at the battle, mentioning the Australians rightly and the Canadians rightly, but also oddly the Americans, who had but one regiment on attachment to the British 3rd Army way to the north of the line of advance and who have never claimed any significant part in the battle. Nonetheless the BBC got through the whole of their News Bulletins without mentioning the UK British, who supplied most of the troops, all of the aircraft above the battlefield, and all of the tanks advancing over it.

It was a surprise however that the government decided to recognise the centenary of the great victory by sending Prince William as senior representative of the Crown. Possibly this was intended as a reminder to the Frenchman Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator, of how valuable an ally the British have been over the last 104 years, when the French have got into difficulties with the Germans. Nonetheless the Foreign Office got the Prince to refer to the French Marshal Foch in glowing terms without mentioning Field Marshal Haig, the British Commander in Chief, who conceived the battle and who was, with the Commander of the 4th Army, General Rawlinson, the author of the detailed plan for the battle and who commanded the troops who fought it[3].


[1] Not dissimilar in scale and import from the British 8th Army’s victory over the German/Italian Army at El Alamein 24 years later.

[2] In the Second World War, when after 1943 the USA became the senior rather than a junior part of the Allied effort against Germany and Japan, the American President Roosevelt insisted on “unconditional surrender” and no peace conference was ever held.

[3] The French 1st Army came under Haig’s temporary command for the thrust towards Montdidier.

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