Friday, September 19, 2014

September 19th, 1914

- At Rheims the return of the French X Corps stabilizes the line - though the Germans remain in control of the high ground north and east of the city, the French hold the fort at La Pompelle to the southeast.  The hardening line leaves Rheims in French hands but easily within German artillery range.  At the centre of the city sits historic Rheims Cathedral, whose construction began in 1211 and for centuries had been the location where the kings of France were crowned.  The French today are using the cathedral to house German wounded, and its towers were draped in the flags of the Red Cross.  Nevertheless, the cathedral is targeted by German gunners along with the rest of the city - at 4pm, a shell strikes the northwest tower, setting fire to the wooden scaffolding that had been erected in peacetime as part of the cathedral's restoration.  The spreading fire melts the leaden roof, and molten lead ignites straw in the nave below, killing a dozen German prisoners.  The fire also spreads to the Archbishop's Palace, consuming irreplaceable Roman and Gothic tapestries.  Though the stone edifice of the cathedral remains, its interior is gutted, and medieval stain-glass windows are shattered.  The devastation of Rheims Cathedral receives worldwide attention, and is seen as yet another example of German barbarism and disdain for Western civilization.  The bombardment of the cathedral and the city will continue for years to come.

A German shell strikes Rheims Cathedral, Sept. 19th, 1914.

- West of Verdun, XVI Corps launches the first part of Falkenhayn's two-pronged offensive on the flanks of the town's fortified zone.  Attacking south into the heavily-forested Argonne, XVI Corps uses overwhelming artillery fire targeted precisely on the French trenches.  Most of the French defenders are killed or scattered, and the German infantry methodically advance into the abandoned positions.

- General Hausen of 3rd Army retires today on the grounds of ill-health, replaced by General der Kavallerie von Einem, formerly of VII Corps.

- Army Detachment Gaede is formed at the far southern end of the Western Front, in the Vosges near the Swiss border.  It consists of only three Landwehr brigades under the command of General Hans Gaede, and covers what a quiet sector on the front, as its hilly and wooded terrain makes it particularly unsuitable for offensive operations.

- The first South African attack in German South-West Africa occurs today when Force C lands at Lüderitz on the coast.  They encounter no resistance, as the Germans, fearing the guns of the Royal Navy, have abandoned the town and retreated inland.  However, with three aircraft they are able to monitor the movements of the South African force.

- David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, addresses a packed crowd this evening at Queen's Hall, London.  He has long had a reputation as a dazzling speaker, and brings his full oratorical powers to bear to justify British participation in the war.  Britain, Lloyd George argues, was honour-bound to come to the aid of Belgium through the guarantee of independence the British government had given almost a century ago.  This view of honour is contrasted with the action of Germany:
She [Germany] says treaties only bind you when it is to your interest to keep them.  'What is a treaty?' says the German Chancellor.  'A scrap of paper.' . . . Have you any of those neat Treasury 1 pound notes?  If you have, burn them; they are only 'scraps of paper.'  What are they made of?  Rags.  What are they worth?  The whole credit of the British Empire.
We are fighting against barbarism.  But there is only one way of putting it right.  If there are nations that say they will only respect treaties when it is to their interest to do so, we must make it to their interest to do so for the future.
Britain is not fighting to preserve the balance of power or the integrity of the Empire, says Lloyd George, but rather on behalf of the underdog, a much more appealing basis:

That is the story of the little nations.  The world owes much to little nations - and to little men.  This theory of bigness - you must have a big empire, and a big man - well, long legs have their advantage in a retreat.  Frederick the Great chose his warriors for their height, and that tradition has become a policy in Germany.  Germany applies that ideal to nations; she will only allow six-feet-two nations to stand in the ranks.  But all the world owes much to the little five feet high nations.  The greatest art of the world was the work of little nations.  The most enduring literature of the world came from little nations.  The greatest literature of England came from her when she was a nation of the size of Belgium fighting a great Empire.  The heroic deeds that thrill humanity through generations were the deeds of little nations fighting for their freedom.  Ah, yes, and the salvation of mankind came through a little nation.  God has chosen little nations as the vessels by which he carries the choicest wines to the lips of humanity, to rejoice their hearts, to exalt their vision, to stimulate and to strengthen their faith; and if we had stood by when two little nations were being crushed and broken by the brutal hands of barbarism our shame would have rung down the everlasting ages.
Lloyd George concludes by emphasizing the transformative effect he sees the war having on British society:

May I tell you, in a simple parable, what I think this war is doing for us?  I know a valley in North Wales, between the mountains and the sea - a beautiful valley, snug, comfortable, sheltered by the mountains from all the bitter blasts.  It was very enervating, and I remember how the boys were in the habit of climbing the hills above the village to have a glimpse of the great mountains in the distance and to be stimulated and freshened by the breezes which came from the hilltops, and by the great spectacle of that great valley.
We have been living in a sheltered valley for generations.  We have been too comfortable, too indulgent, many, perhaps, too selfish.  And the stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the great everlasting things that matter for a nation; the great peaks of honour we had forgotten - duty and patriotism, clad in glittering white; the great pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to Heaven.  We shall descend into the valleys again, but as long as the men and women of this generation last they will carry in their hearts the image of these great mountain peaks, whose foundations are unshaken though Europe rock and sway in the convulsions of a great war.

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