International remembrance at the German military cemetery, Cerny-en-Laonnais (Photo: Paul Kendall)

Centenary update: remembering the Battle of the Aisne

Posted on on 17 September 2014
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Three days of events have been held in France to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Aisne in September 1914.

After the retreat from Mons and the Battle of the Marne, the British and French attack on German positions overlooking the River Aisne marked the start of the war in the trenches. 

Paul Kendall, author of 'Aisne 1914: The Dawn of Trench Warfare' took part in the Centenary commemorations from September 12-14th 2014 and compiled this report for Centenary News:

Events commemorating the centenary of the First Battle of the Aisne began at the Caverne du Dragon Museum, on the Chemin des Dames, with the opening of the exhibition ‘Tommies on the Aisne’.

Senator Yves Daudigny, Professor Anne Bellouin (Museum Director) and myself addressed invited guests, among them  the family of Company Sergeant Major James Woods, 1st Cameron Highlanders. He was killed on September 14th 1914 and is buried at Vendresse Churchyard. 

'Tommies on the Aisne’ will be open until March 31st 2015. When the museum closes for refurbishment from July 1915 until July 1916, the panels from the exhibition will be loaned to French schools. 

There's a further initiative to reproduce these panels for a tour of UK schools that will educate a wider audience about the role of the British Tommy on the Chemin des Dames during 1914. When the museum opens these panels will be used for a permanent display in the new renovated and expanded space.

Fallen Rugby players remembered

The Great War affected the world of rugby and the first of those players paid the ultimate sacrifice on the Chemin des Dames during the Battle of the Aisne. 

Scottish Rugby International Lieutenant Ronald Simson, Royal Field Artillery, fell on September 15th 1914.  Fellow Scottish Rugby International and London Scottish FC player, Lieutenant James Huggan, Royal Army Medical Corps, fell the following day at Soupir. Blackheath FC player, Captain Charles Wilson, 1st Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), died on September 17th. Several French players also died during the Aisne campaign in 1914.

It was therefore appropriate for representatives belonging to Blackheath FC, London Scottish FC and local French Rugby clubs to remember those Rugby players who died during the First World War at a ceremony on September 13th 2014 at the Monument des Basques at Craonelle (pictured, below).

Tributes were paid to these men by current players and a service of remembrance was conducted by British Army Chaplain David Chris. 

Paul MacFarland, Secretary London Scottish FC read John Macrae’s evocative poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. It was poignant for him, because his grandmother was the fiancée of John Macrae. Representatives from the British and French rugby clubs were lined opposite detachments from the Highlanders 4th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 Scots) and the French Army beneath the Monument des Basques at Craonelle. 

The ceremony ended with two floral rugby ball shaped wreaths passed along the line of rugby players before being laid at the base of the memorial.

Battle of the Aisne remembrance at Vendresse and Cerny-en-Laonnais

Commemorative services began at Vendresse British Cemetery on Setember 14th 2014 and were again conducted by Chaplain David Chris, accompanied by the sound of the bagpipes. 

At the conclusion of the service the two pipers lead a procession from the cemetery to Cerny-en-Laonnais along the same road used by soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force before their assault on the sugar factory at Cerny 100 years ago.

Along the way, Yves Fohlen, curator and guide from the Caverne Du Dragon Museum provided brief commentaries on the action that took place here in 1914.

Further services were conducted in front of the Chapel of Cerny-en-Laonnais, and also at the French and German Cemeteries and at the Loyal North Lancashire Memorial, involving the French Army and a detachment from the Highlanders 4th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 Scots).

© Centenary Digital & Author

All pictures courtesy of Paul Kendall