Château-Thierry American Monument

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The summer holiday is a perfect time to explore one’s area and discover new places. As this region is famous for the numerous and significant battles that were fought during World war One, a number of memorials have been erected as a tribute to the soldiers who crossed seas and oceans to fight for our freedom.

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The American Memorial in Château-Thierry is an impressive monument situated upon a hill near the town of Château-Thierry. It offers a wide view of the valley of the Marne River and is located about 54 miles (87 km) east of Paris. It was designed by Paul Philippe Cret and built in the 1930s. It is managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

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It commemorates the achievements of the United States forces that fought in the region during World War One when in 1918, the 2nd and 3rd United States Infantry Divisions took part in heavy fighting around the area during the Second Battle of the Marne. The monument consists of an impressive double colonnade rising above a long terrace.

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On its east facade, you can see the Great Eagle above a map showing American military operations in this region, an orientation table pointing out the significant battle sites as well as the names of the troops involved.

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On its west facade are heroic sculptured figures representing the United States and France. Can you tell which is which?

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The Social Palace

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Here is an introduction to the Familistère, or Social Palace, an industrial and communal residential complex in Northern France based on 19th century utopian socialist ideals.

Originally trained as a locksmith, Jean-Baptiste Godin started making iron cast stoves in 1840. In 1842 he discovered the Fourierist ideal of associating capital, talent and labour. As his factory prospered, his professional success went hand in hand with his social and political commitment to fundamental reform of society. His intention was to improve housing for workers, but also ‘production, trade, supply, education, and recreation’, all the facets of life of a modern worker. As a result from 1846 he developed the Familistère as a self-contained community within the town of Guise.

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The full site with the foundry was about eighteen acres, on either side of the River Oise. In addition to a large factory for cast-iron manufacture, three large buildings, each four stories high, were constructed to house all the workers and their families, with each family having apartments of two or three rooms. The main building consisted of three rectangular blocks joined at the corners. Each of these blocks had a large central court covered with a glass roof under which children could play in all weather.

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At the back of the main block was a nursery, a pouponnat (or infant school) for toddlers and children up to age four, the bambinat for children 4-6. Opposite the main block was a building containing a theater for concerts and dramatic entertainments, and a primary school for children over six

A separate block, known as the economat, contained various shops, refreshment and recreation rooms of various kinds, and grocery stores for the purchase of basic goods. They were purchased at wholesale prices and sold with little mark-up, with workers manning the shops. There were also communal laundry rooms, baths and swimming pool, in a separate building on the opposite bank, where water was heated by the factory.

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By 1872, when a correspondent from the American Harper’s Magazine visited the complex, 900 workers (including women) and their families were housed there, for a total population of about 1200.

The experience lasted for just over 100 years but in 1968 the cooperative association for the Social Palace was dissolved, and the apartments were sold at moderate prices. Nowadays the site is open for visitors and tours. On May 1st the town organises celebrations and the site can be visited for a minimal sum.

(written with the help of Wikipedia)

Commonwealth War Cemeteries

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If you have relatives who fought in World War 1 or if you are just interested in recent History, visiting Commonwealth War Cemeteries is something you might consider. Yesterday I visited two such cemeteries as there are lots of them in my area – French troops were stationed further east. The following explanations are based both on my own observations and on a Wikipedia article.

A typical cemetery is surrounded by a masonry wall with an entrance through wrought iron gates. In larger sites a stainless steel notice gives details of the respective military campaign – in the first cemetery I visited the notice explained that it contained the graves of 65 British, 1 Australian and 41 South African soldiers and when they fell in action. There were also a map and some explanations about the battles fought by these soldiers.

In most cemeteries, you’ll find a bronze register box – in the wall – containing an inventory of the burials and a plan of the plots and rows as well as a visitor’s book.

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Typically, cemeteries of more than 40 graves have a Cross of Sacrifice designed by architect Reginald Blomfield.

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Individual graves are arranged, where possible, in straight rows and marked by uniform headstones, the vast majority of which are made of Portland stone.

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Most headstones are inscribed with a cross, except for when the deceased was not a Christian or was known to be an Atheist.

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Many gravestones are for unidentified casualties; they consequently bear only what could be discovered from the body.

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The land on which the Commonwealth cemeteries and official memorials are situated was given by the French government and are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.