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The golden statue of the Virgin Mary holding aloft the baby Jesus sits on top of the Basilica of Notre-Dame des Brebieres in Albert, a town which the British held throughout most of the Great War. Fierce fighting around Albert began in September 1914 and continued until the German guns were pushed out of range at the end of the Somme offensive in October 1916.
The `Golden Virgin` statue was hit by a shell on January 15, 1915, and ended up precariously attached by its base, leaning horizontal to the ground and in severe danger of crashing to the ground. The Germans said that whoever made the statue fall would lose the war so French engineers, aware of how this superstition could easily adversely affect morale, fixed the statue in place, just in case the Allies could be deemed indirectly responsible. Thereafter, a number of legends surrounding the `Leaning Virgin` developed among the German, French, and British troops.
Albert was a major command and control centre as well as a staging area for the masses of soldiers heading for this section of the front line. Hundreds of thousands of Allied troops passed through the town, often arriving or departing via the railway station (above). The image on the left, taken on 22 August 1918, shows a wrecked section of railway track in Albert.
The aircraft pictured above is a civilian registered Potez 36/14, F-PHZN, which hangs from the roof inside the station`s main building. It`s a French-built two-seater touring or sport monoplane with a design that incorporates, unusually for such an aircraft, folding wings to assist with storage. It could also be towed behind a motor car! The prototype first flew in 1929 but only 103 were built. Although most were bought for private use a small number were used by the French Air Force during the 1930s as liaison aircraft.
The German army recaptured Albert in March 1918 during their Spring Offensive and the British, determined to prevent the Germans from using the church tower as an observation post, shelled the basilica. The statue finally fell in April 1918 and was damaged beyond repair. In August 1918 the Germans retreated and the British reoccupied Albert until the end of the war.
The town`s 1914 - 1918 Somme Trench Museum is worth a look. Much of the display area is located below ground in tunnels that run under the Basilica and adjacent streets. A number of trench scenes, complete with sound effects, have been recreated and feature life-size figures wearing authentic uniforms and equipment. The 25 pounder gun outside the entrance to the museum dates from the Second World War.
Please bear in mind that all images on this website are Copyright. They are not free to use and have been embedded with a digital watermark. The black & white photographs from the Imperial War Museum`s collection have been used courtesy of its `Share & Reuse` policy and are also subject to copyright restrictions.
This model of a French Renault FT-17 Light Tank is one of several models on display within the museum. Entering service in 1917, the FT was the first production tank to have its armament within a fully rotating turret. This, along with the crew compartment at the front and the engine compartment in the rear, became and remains the standard tank layout, therefore it has often been called the world's first modern tank. Over 3,000 Renault FTs were manufactured by the French during the Great War, most of them during 1918, and another 950 of an almost identical design were produced under license in the United States, but not in time to enter combat. An original French Army machine can be found at the Musée de l'Armée (Army Museum) in Paris.
Earlier French tanks, the Schneider and the St Chamond had not proved successful in combat, especially compared to the first British tank designs. Although the British had shown that tanks can breach enemy trench lines, their machines were too heavy and slow to support rapidly advancing infantry following a breakthrough. The French therefore concentrated on designing a ‘chaser’ tank. The FT-17, nicknamed `Mosquito`, was designed as a cheap, easily produced machine-gun carrier that could provide direct fire-support for troops making an attack. They only weighed 6 tons which meant that they could cross many bridges which would not bear the weight of the F-17`s larger and heavier British counterparts. The metal sledge blade at the rear was designed to help with trench crossings.
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Millencourt is a commune in the Somme department located just west of Albert. This is the WW1 memorial honouring French military personnel from the district who lost their lives during the conflict.