Monument des Basques – 36th Infantry Division Memorial

Monument-des-Basques-on-Chemin-des-Dames

Obelisk with Basque man looking towards his native land

Monument des Basques is the memorial that pays tribute to the 36th Infantry Division.

The division was predominantly composed of men from the French Pays Basque.

This historical region of south-west France includes the departments of Landes, Hautes-Pyrénées and Basses-Pyrénées.

The 36th R.I. participated to several deadly assaults on the Chemin des Dames, particularly in the sector located between Craonne and the Ferme d’ Hurtebise, and on the Plateau de Californie.

Tragically, so many men of the 36th R.I. died that two brigades were entirely disseminated and the division considered a martyr division!

Indeed, in September 1914 the Basque soldiers of the 36th R.I. defended, at the cost of astronomical human losses, the French positions on the ridge of the Chemin des Dames.

Between 4 to 6 May 1917 they then re-seized the German positions on the Plateau of Californie.

They once more assaulted the ridge of the Chemin des Dames between 2 to 4 June 1917, however, endured severe losses during a German counterattack.

Finally on September 15, 1918 they engaged in another deadly assault, at the term of which they forced the Germans to retreat to the northern bank of the small river Ailette.

The Monument des Basques therefore pays tribute to their courage and sacrifice.

Monument des Basques – Memorial Obelisk

Monument-des-Basques-memorial

Back of the Memorial

The architect Mathieu Forest and the sculptor Claude Grange created the memorial.

The Monument des Basques is a 14m high obelisk in gray limestone from Souppes-sur-Loing (south of Fontainebleau).

The same stone was used to build the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre, the Sorbonne and the Arc de Triomphe.

The obelisk stands on the Chemin des Dames, on the sector where the 36th Infantry Division lost so many men.

After the war, several Veterans organizations launched a subscription in the Pays Basque in order to fund the creation of this memorial.

The General Mittelhauser, the last officer in command of the division in 1918, presided over its inauguration on September 30, 1928.

Monument des Basques – Sculptures

A statue of Basque peasant, his back against the obelisk and the gaze directed toward his native land, stands on the south facing side of the memorial.

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The Basque peasant statue

He holds the makila, the traditional Basque walking stick, in his right hand.

He also wears the traditional white shirt with a cloth belt and a red scarf and of course the Basque beret.

The lateral sides of the obelisk are adorned with a sculpted laurel crown.

Each crown bears the names of the departments from where the men of the 36th Infantry Division came from – Hautes-Pyrénées, Landes and Basses-Pyrénées.

The division’s monogram – 36 R.I. – is carved above each crown, farther up the obelisk’s shaft.

The first War Cross is engraved to the left of the statue above the names of the regiments and garrison towns of the 36th R.I. – 218e RI Pau – 14e RA Tarbes – 249e RI Bayonne.

The second War Cross is engraved to its right above those of the 18e R.I. Pau – 49e R.I. Bayonne and 12e R.I. Tarbes – 34e RI Mont de Marsan.

Monument des Basques – Dedications

A commemorative slab of the Battle of Gozée (1914) is affixed at the foot of the statue, and reads:

“Aux vaillants combattants français du 49 ème R.I. Tombés à Gozée, le 23-8-1914 pour la défense de la justice et de la liberté. Les groupements patriotiques de Gozée, le 8 mai 1960”

“To the valiant French fighters of the 49th R.I. Fallen in Gozée on 23-8-1914 for the defense of justice and freedom. Gozée patriotic groups, May 8, 1960 “

A square column topped with a soldier’s helmet flanks the back of the Monument des Basques and bears the following dedication:

“A la gloire de la 36ème Division d’Infanterie qui prit une part glorieuse à toutes les batailles
de la guerre 1914-1918″

‘To the glory of the 36th Division of Infantry who took a glorious part in all battles
of the war of 1914-1918 “

The list of the various assaults follows these dedications.

Finally, the names of the generals who commanded the division are engraved further down at the base of the column.

The Monument des Basques was listed Historical Monument in 2003.

Here are the official links to the WWI 100th Anniversary Commemorations:

Centenary of the Battle of the Somme, starting on July 1st 2016

Mission Centenaire 14-18 in English

Directions: Road D89 in Department of Aisne in Picardie

Coordinates for Monument des Basques: Lat 49.430553 – Long 3.759480

Photo via Wikimedia Commons: Basque man by François GOGLINS is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0  –  Resource