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A visit to Le Musée de la Grande Guerre, Meaux.

On the way to our lovely holiday, I spotted signs directing traffic to a nearby towm (approx 10 miles) from where we were staying, that had Le Musée de la Grande Guerre. The town is called Meaux, and, if you know anything about WW1 history, it's where the French literally shut the gates on the advancing Germans during the Battle of The Marne in 1914. Famously, French reinforcements were rushed out of Paris in taxis, modern mobile infantry was born here!
So, on the Friday of our trip, as the girls reclined around the pool, I set out in my wife's trusty 03 plate Ford Focus, armed only with half a bag of jelly babies and google maps, to drive, solo, across beautiful French countryside, through a busy French provincial town, to get to a museum.

Thankfully, I made it unscathed!

After a brilliant visit to Verdun in '08, which was a depressing, cold, wet, foggy and somewhat hungover day, where I found a visit to the French entrenchments and the amazing museum very upsetting, I was stealing myself for another round of horrors.

The French were not on holiday as England was, so the museum was relatively quiet, a party of French elderly visitors, with a conversational tour guide, and three buses of French school children were buzzing around doing their thing, I was left to wander on my own. What I found was a delightful collection, initially started by one man who collected 65000 items, then bought by the town of Meaux, it was an incredibly well thought out, laid out museum, which catered for all levels of interest and was as about as multi-lingual as any museum I have ever been to. Entry was 10 Euros, it was light, airy, had a good shop and cafe (neither of which I spent money in, as I had jelly-babies and lunch on the way), and was brilliantly laid out. Very much recommended.

When you arrive, you are greeted by a municipal French wall, surrounded by trees, the entrance is to the right.

The first view of the building, with artillery under. Around the grounds are various speakers that play sound effects from the time.

Standing under, looking at a trench-mortar, with a French heroic statue beyond. It was here that I noticed the floor was not even. Upon closer examination, it was a relief map of the local front, made with tiles!

A better shot of the mortar with camoflague

 Atmospheric shot of the statue!

The museum is above you!

Meaux on the floor.

Entering teh museum was interesting, as you ascended a winding spiral slope, which led to the shop/entry desk. It wasn't brilliantly signed, but made sense, once you were there!
Inside, a timeline room, which took you back in time to 1870. It became apparent the French view the war as one of defense and liberation, not the arms race and stupidity of tactics that we British do. In fact, their view on matters was eye-opening. I did not try to photograph everything, but tried to get a flavour of many of the exhibits.

 I rather sprinted through this section, as it was full of tour groups, but between the loss of 1870 and 1914, the French military attitude changed, to being more militaristic (here is a French military academy) and more aggressive.

The march to war, 1914. What was nice about this was that all involved nations featured, and there were two unstoppable columns, as war became a certainty.

 All branches of French and British military were featured, as far as I can tell, the uniforms were original.

The British have arrived!

As have the Germans!

And other nations

There was a main hall, which I did after, but if you turn off, there are many large rooms that split into different areas of life in the war, all thematically linked. Trench fighting armour and weapons.

Weaponry on display, showing mankind's innate ability to be stupid to each other!

Armour and weapons for close in fighting.

Cuirassier armour and equipment.

Everyday gas equipment of soldiers on the front line.

Discussion on tank tactics. The French claim the Germans tried it, but weren't really that interested.

Aerial equipment for returning reconnaissance reports to ground quickly.

The back end of a Spad fighter. There were quite a few bits of flying memorabilia throughout the site.

Naval shells, the one to the left was about 4' high!

More evidence that, as a civilised creature, our abilities to hurt each other are almost unlimited!

ANd if the casing was not bad enough, we can fill it with all sorts of groovy things, I believe the two middle ones were for distributing Smarties to the enemy troops on special occasions!

One of the forts near Verdun, and what it looked like after constant artillery barrage.

War was also fought on the propaganda front too, satirical cartoons were scattered around.

As well as appealing posters, appealing to the populous. Behind him is the front line.

Recovered everyday equipment, including corkscrews, pen knives, cutlery...

Shell art, mostly of a religious nature.

This one fascinated me! musical instruments made from discarded helmets, often with intersting holes in!

I had heard of breaking out the regimental silver, but not regimental crockery. As I stood and stared at this one, it made sense, men have to eat. They cannot do it all from canteens, so there must have been parts of the front quiet enough to ship in the chinaware.

Winter gear, as wars do not stop for the seasons.

Twisted lumps of metal. These would have been flying overhead!

A large portion of the space was devoted the the injured and the dead. France's losses from teh Great War were huge! The 1914-1918 war showed the involvement of 8 million French soldiers belonging to several age groups for over four years, 7 million of which were working in the combat zones. On average, nearly 900 men were killed every day. 
War years
Losses recorded
Other figures include '1,357,800 dead, 4,266,000 wounded (of whom 1.5 million were permanently maimed) and 537,000 made prisoner or missing — exactly 73% of the 8,410,000 men mobilized, according to William Shirer in The Collapse of the Third '.'

Whereas, British injured and losses were quietly not talked about. The suffering of the French soldier was clearly expressed in art of the time. As shown in the piece below, each of the soldiers carries some kind of injury!  

A triptich of a facial reconstruction. This happened to my Great-Grandad's brother, his jaw was shot away in 19616, but he died fighting back in the trenches in 1917.

Prosthetic arms.

How many parts of the body could be artificially replaced by the end of the war!

Clearing casualties from the mud.

A wounded French soldier. I don't ever remember seeing anything like this in a British museum.

Religion on the front.

A large portion of the displays were featuring foreign nationalities and colonial forces on all sides (impressive Kiwi torpedo), but especially the lot of the French Algerians, Senegalese and the Turcos.

A small selection of faces that fought for France.

And their uniforms.

Sheltering Algerians

Senegalese troops in the snow.

Allied uniforms (Russian Bolshevik, Belgians, Canadian, East African and others)

Austrian Jager

 Navy uniforms, various nationalities.

Some very cool model ships,

Including some monstrous French submarines!

Nice model

The museum also features the American involvement in the war, as they fought locally to Meuax.

Back in the main hall were a series of exhibits that showed many aspects of the war. This one I thought was beautifully done. You could not tell which grave belonged to which nationality.

German 77mm howitzer.

French mobile pigeon loft. In the days before reliable radio transitions, messages still had to get through.
 French pride. To the left, a battle taxi.

Please rotate...

The battle taxi, something of a French icon.

Off the main hall were a series of film and photo galleries, showing conditions on the front.

And a 1:1 recreation of trenches into no-man's land. Recreated bits were white, original parts were real colours. A very clever display.

To break the seriousness, there was a small interactive area for younger children, with all sorts of fun bits. This was by a local graffiti artist, and it was rather cool!

Suspended, like it was emerging into the museum from the underworld, was a F17 tank! The first tank as we would think of them today, small, not that fast (but compared to early British tanks, a sprinter) and with a movable turret!

Pretty amazing, considering my car is bigger than this!

As the war ended, soldiers of all nationalities faded into ghosts. Another well thought out display, mirroring the earlier one as you enetred.

Forever marching on...

As you left, the museum had one more surprise. It defined 1918/19 as 'The Illusion of Peace', and then went on to show how the factors and results of the war are in part responsible for Iraq, Syria and much of the problems that affect word politics today. 

Post-war French films, showing life returning to shattered towns, and the row upon row of dead.

Some of which are still being found!

And, the last thought, as you leave, the gravestone again, showing all faiths and nationalities.

 Seriously, visit!


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