One of the proudest moments in French history was the "Miracle of the Marne," which occurred in September of 1914. During the previous month, German troops had sliced through Belgium into northeastern France. They were now within about 35 miles of Paris, and if they could cross the Marne River, they would likely march down the Champs Elysses through the Arc de Triomphe into the heart of Paris. They had done just that a few decades before during the Franco-Prusian War, and they seemed about to do it again. Living in a country town a few miles from Paris, American journalist Mildred Aldrich wrote, "All France is holding its breath." (See previous post on her report.)
During the first week of September, 1914, English and French troops regrouped to face the German advance. In the resulting Battle of the Marne (September 5-12) the Allied counterattack succeeded in pushing back the Germans and set the stage for four years of trench warfare on a line from Switzerland to the North Sea.
At a critical moment in the battle, September 6-7, fleets of taxis rushed thousands of soldiers into the French countryside to join the army at the front. Each cab carried five soldiers with their supplies, and each driver was paid by the meter, just as if they were picking up civilian fares. These reinforcements were actually a tiny fraction of the troop strength at the front, but the parade of taxis acquired tremendous symbolic power: here was France using every last resource to stop the enemy advance. And the advance was indeed stopped.
On Setember 7, 2014, a ceremony was held at the Invalides in Paris, on the exact spot from which the taxis had departed exactly a century before. I arose early that morning, and I took a cab (what else) to the ceremony. Here is what I saw:
speak for themselves in this video;
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If you enjoyed this article on World War I, you might also enjoy these entries:
• August 10, 1914: "It is as if all France is holding it's breath...."
• The Battle of the Marne begins, 1914 -Then and Now with Mildred Aldrich
• "Over There": World War I Veterans Sing Songs of the Great War, 67 Years Later
• Memories of the Lafayette Escadrille at the American Cathedral in Paris
• The Outbreak of the Great War, My Grandfather's Diary, and an Elephant Ride