The second Battle of the Marne a hundred years on

In August 2014, exactly a hundred years from the day World War I began, I happened to be in France driving along the battle front that crossed from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border and visited many of the WWI battlefields and came across not a single ceremony of any kind to memorialise the start of the most devastating and consequential war in the history of the West. There have been battles that have probably been more consequential – Tours and Vienna [1683] come to mind – but no war has so uprooted every aspect of the European continent, and indeed the entire planet, than the First World War. Whether it was the disappearance of entire dynasties, “the sealed train” which led to the Russian Revolution, or the deadly meddling of Wilson in European affairs, the fact is that even now we are still trying to wind back its effects. There could have been no North Korea without Communist China and there could have been no Communist China without the Soviet Union. There would have been no Nazis and no World War II if there had been no Kaiser and World War I. And on it goes. Yet the same has occurred throughout the period since August 2014 with no memorials and remembrances of any significance that have brought to mind this fantastic war that had done so much to create the havoc of our world today. Those who died on the battlefields of France are barely remembered.

So in The Oz a few days back there was this tiny article on the editorial page foreshadowing the centenary of The Armistice on November 11: 100 years, 100 reasons why Armistice matters. I imagine the Armistice, too, will go by without much notice. So I will just remind us that we are now living through the hundredth anniversary of the second last battle of World War I, The Second Battle of the Marne, whose dates are officially July 15 to August 6 of 1918. August 6, of course, was the date that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima which was the event that brought World War II to its end. Two days from now will be the 100th anniversary of the start of the last sequence of battles of WWI, which commenced with The Battle of Amiens, which finally brought the first World War to its end.

We are the products of history whether we think about it or not, and the fact is no one any longer cares about our own past which in itself means we are rudderless and without bearings. We today barely know who we are since we no longer know who we have been and from whence we have come. We may well be heading for changes that will make even the eruptions of World War I seem mild and inconsequential in comparison.

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27 Responses to The second Battle of the Marne a hundred years on

  1. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    Two days from now will be the 100th anniversary of the start of the last battle of WWI, Amiens, which brought the first World War to its end.

    The Battle of Amiens, far from bringing the First World War to an end, marked the start of the “Hundred Days” – the longest series of victories, ever won by the British Army, and the series of decisive battles, including Cambrai and Mont Saint Quentin – that, contrary to later Nazi propaganda, utterly defeated the German Army, and drove it from the field.

  2. John Constantine

    The media, back before it became a revolutionary weapon of downfall and calamity, used to do the history of where we came from, and how we came together to get where we are.

    Now, the Great War is taught as being racist rapists oppressing victims of class and misogyny and religion and progressive feelings.

  3. Your last paragraph sums it up well, Steve. If we don’t know who we were, or why we were what we were, how is it possible (especially in 140 characters) to know who were now, or how to navigate the unknown future? History has many lessons, from which we consistently fail to learn.

  4. As long as Australians don’t have to go to Europe to fight another pointless war.

  5. Steve Kates

    Zulu Kilo Two Alpha – now amended. Thank you.

  6. mareeS

    Nice piece, Steve. History and languages make for lively minds.

  7. stackja

    Europe probably knows the next war will end history.

  8. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    Zulu Kilo Two Alpha – now amended. Thank you.

    My pleasure, Steve.

  9. anonandon

    Well written Steve. I think (I fear) I hear war drums in the distance.

  10. stackja

    Those who died on the battlefields of France are barely remembered.

    Cousin Ambrose still remembered.

  11. Marcus Classis

    Sorry, Steve, but this is not really correct. I am in Belgium right now on a break from where I have been and what I have been doing, been in The City in the Salient for a while. (ZK2A will know where I mean, you HAVE to get there, the museum is excellent, the Gate ceremony moving). The beer is amazing, the food less so.

    There’s a lot of commemorative stuff going on, and has been all this year both here and down on the Somme.

    Heading down to Amiens tomorrow. There’s a lot of stuff on for the Der schwarze tag der Deutschen Armee.

    We are walking Villiers-Bret to Bellengleise cross country. Have a wonderful new software package which overlays all the British WWI maps over the current maps and plots your route both planned and actual.

    Amazing how much frag there is just lying about on the surface. You could collect fifty kilos of frag in a couple of hours in any field in The Salient. We’ve seen dozens of rounds of UXO, either iron harvest awaiting pickup or lying about. Visited the DOVO boys at Poelkappele. They clank when they walk and deserve a better memorial to the deminers who’ve died doing their job. They blow UXO daily at Poelkappele, and reckon there’s still about 1.5 to 3 million tons of UXO still out there, 200-300 million rounds. No-one has any real idea, of course. An Onderluitenant showed us some German UXO they got out of the blue clay, unrusted, paint still fresh. As it still would be in a thousand years, he said.

    See ya!

  12. JC

    Adonis, any stray looks from young sheilas?

  13. DaveR

    Steve, provocative article which reminds us all that history is the prism by which we should view the present. The current emergence of an aggressive internationalist movement out of Europe from UN beginnings is becoming a significant challenge for sovereign states. Will the historical lessons of the actions of the crown heads of Europe in causing the Great War, or the inadequate surrender terms signed in the railway carriage at Rethondes in 1918 be understood by the current generation of politicians to avoid another war in Europe?

  14. We have a photo of my wifes grandfather with his wife and 3 small kids taken in 1916 before he went to France. Their expressions haunt us still; they seemed to know what was ahead for them. George died of wounds at Passchendaele in November 1917. A snipers bullet hit him in the face, taking out both eyes. He lay in the mud for 3 days.That bloody war affected so many lives . We will never forget.

  15. iain russell

    Steve, I don’t know that no-one remembers. I recall a great hoo-ha over the cost and scale of the First AIF memorial and museum at V-B. Like MC, I did the battlefield tour in 2017 for a great uncle and a grandfather and there is no shortage of memorials or visitors memorialising.

  16. Those who died on the battlefields of France are barely remembered.

    I have children, nephews and nieces who can all name their ancestral relatives who fell in WW1.

    “Remember their names.”

  17. JohnA

    Steve, interesting article, and many good points.

    A couple of comments:
    a) the link to the Smithsonian article about Lenin’s secret return to Czarist Russia was a reminder that persistence pays off. But the writer skated over an important detail about his “apart from a brief return to Russia”. This was to lead the failed 1905 revolution, which convinced Lenin of the importance of terror as a revolutionary tool. We live with the consequences of THAT event also.

    b) the German tactic of making a large push to break through the enemy lines. Hitler (or his generals) repeated that mistake in WW2 – we call it “The Battle of The Bulge” – in the same approximate area. We all remember that he also repeated Napoleon’s attack on Russia. I wonder how many other parallels might exist to demonstrate that we all fail to learn the lessons of history?

  18. lotocoti

    We may well be heading for changes that will make even the eruptions of World War I seem mild and inconsequential in comparison.

    I’m reminded of something written by Max Hastings in Catastrophe.
    “It is a conceit of our own times to suppose that we are obliged to live, and national leaderships to make decisions, amid unprecedentedly rapid change.”
    He then reminds us of some of the technical, social and political advances which swept the world a century ago, within the same time span as the 9/11 attacks and now:
    manned powered flight, the domestic application of electricity, the social influence and political power of mass circulation newspapers, universal suffrage, the rise of socialism, the decline of Liberalism, the fall in infant mortality, the doubling of real wages…

  19. max

    Very good post, Steve.

    I noticed the word “we” cropping up a few times, especially in your last paragraph. The most disturbing thing about our country now is our shattered understanding of who we are. I can’t imagine a large Australian military force ever again fighting for the nation. We just lack the spirit.

  20. Diogenes

    Our history teachers show our year 9s the week by week youtube Great War Channel episodes (which I admit I enjoy immensely) . I have some of them for computing the period after , and they are talking about it , and I often get things like, ‘Sir, why didn’t they use Monash’s tactics earlier ?, ‘Why didn’t the Kaiser/King sack Hotzendorff/Cadorna earlier?’ and we spend a little time clarifying.

    My maternal great grandfather, an Offizierstellverterter in the 76th (2nd Hanseatic) Infantry Regt was killed during the 100 days. He had been wounded in the 2nd Marne , and he died when his hospital was shelled.

  21. Our son Harry is named after his great-great uncle Sapper Harry Williams who died of wounds in France on 1 July 1918 while serving with the Kalgoorlie-raised 3rd Tunnelling Company RAE. We don’t forget.

  22. jupes

    100 years ago, the AIF’s main concern was preparing to attack the main enemy on the main battleground of the war.

    Today the ADF’s main concern is to ensure soldiers don’t offend transvestites and other assorted freaks.

  23. Rococo Liberal

    To be fair, the BBC has been constantly remebering the Great War theough all sorst of radio and TV programming. The Brits have had countless commemorations since August 2014, all over their part of the line,
    Kates is not really telling the truth.

  24. Myrddin Seren

    The Great War Youtube channel.

    Week-by-week summary and heaps of special feature episodes too.

    Highly recommenced.

  25. rickw

    We are the products of history whether we think about it or not, and the fact is no one any longer cares about our own past which in itself means we are rudderless and without bearings.

    WWI would seem to have irrevocably changed Australia’s future.

    To many good men killed and scarred from a small population.

  26. JohnA

    Rococo Liberal #2783149, posted on August 7, 2018, at 3:39 pm

    To be fair, the BBC has been constantly remembering the Great War through all sorts of radio and TV programming. The Brits have had countless commemorations since August 2014, all over their part of the line,
    Kates is not really telling the truth.

    That might be so over there, but what about here? My wife and I have an interest in things historical but we don’t see much. Some major things like Anzac but otherwise, bumpkiss.

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