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The Solemn Centenary of the Valiant Defence of Amiens

In the Spring of 1918, things didn't look great for the French. After the signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty and the withdrawal of the Soviet Russia from the Great War, the Germans were able to transfer most of their troops and heavy artillery from the Eastern to the Western Front. On March 21, they started a major offensive on the British and French forces on the river Somme in Picardy. If it weren't for the valiant Australians, the road to Paris would have been broken wide open.

The Allies had been facing the Germans on the banks of the Somme since 1915. This was the site of one of the fiercest battles in World War One in 1916 with over a million casualties on both sides. At the end of March in what was to be the last year of the war, the heavily reinforced German Army launched Operation Michael, a series of attacks planned to drive the British and the French back along the length of the Western Front. The decisive effort was aimed at the city of Amiens, a vital railway junction, but the advance was halted on April 4 by British and Australian troops at Villers-Bretonneux, a town 12 miles east of the city.

The Germans came within 400 meters of the town, but Colonel Goddard of the 35th Australian Battalion, in command of the sector, ordered a surprise late afternoon counter-attack by the 36th Australian Batallion with about 1000 men. Advancing by section rushes, they pushed the Germans back towards Monument Wood and then north of Lancer Wood, and forced two German divisions to retreat from Villers-Bretonneux. The day marked the end of German advancement.

One hundred years later, the people of Amiens, a city about 80 miles north of Paris, are still grateful to the Australians. The annual Anzac Day, a commemoration of Australians soldiers fallen in World War One, will be celebrated here April 22-25 with concerts and the inauguration of the outdoor memorial trail. Amiens, a picturesque municipality of about 150,000 inhabitants, is currently the site of a vast outdoor exhibition Among Us (Parmi Nous). Faces of WWI soldiers looking from the walls and façades of the city buildings are supposed to remind the inhabitants of the international soldiers quartered in the city who courageously defended it.

The city is also proud of its huge 13th century gothic cathedral, the largest of its kind in France, quite similar to the Notre Dame of Paris. At the place where Somme makes an arch north of the city centre, there is a huge plant garden viewed only from boats. In one of the estuaries venturing into the heart of the city, there is a row of famous restaurants, the home of the "ficelle picarde," a delicious crepe filled with ham, mushroom cheese and cream baked in the oven.

Notre Dame of Amiens

A detail in the interior of the cathedral

The Quay Bélu of the St. Leu Quarters in Amiens

A century ago, the life in the city was far more tense and insecure, though. Things finally started to gradually improve towards the end of the summer.

The Battle of Amiens, or the Third Battle of Picardy, was the opening phase of the Allied offensive that started  on August 8, 1918. The allied forces advanced over 11 kilometers on that day, one of the greatest advances of the notorious and costly trench war. Due to a large number of surrendering German forces, Erich Ludendorff, the German general, described it as "the black day of the German Army." After the battle, fighting became mobile once again until the final allied victory and the armistice day signed on November 11, 1918. France was finally free of the menacing German troops. At least for the next 22 years.

Svetozar Postic

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