Combat de cavalerie… Cavalry combat. Around Ypres our riders rout the enemy’s cavalry
Lithograph with hand colouring through stencils. Publisher: Tolmer & Co. 1914
Given by Sophie Gurney 1994
No. 16 from the series La Grande Guerre.
Ypres was occupied by German cavalry on 3 October 1914. The French had expected the German army to cut across only the southern tip of Belgium; they were not prepared to meet Germany so far north.
The caption below the print draws a parallel to the Battle of Reichshoffen (also known as the Battle of Wœrth), which took place in August 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) in the vicinity of Ypres. The battle was immortalized in the French nation’s consciousness for a courageous cavalry charge, and commemorated in a popular children’s song (similar in the English language to the Crimean War (1853-56) and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’). Thousands of French soldiers lost their lives during the 1870 battle but it was a source of great pride, and an opportunity here to reference courage, heroism and cran (‘spirit’). The text recounts the incredible bravery of the men, charging ‘with superb disregard of death ‘through flying bullets ‘underneath the sacred folds of our flag’.
The early battles of 1914 were totally unlike the later trench warfare. The chalky quality of the lithographic technique successfully conveys the speed of the galloping horses and flying dust.
The French caption with English translation:
COMBAT DE CAVALERIE. AUX ALENTOURS D’YPRES NOS CAVALIERS METTENT EN DÉROULE LA CAVALERIE ENNEMIE.
De furieux combats se sont livrés en Belgique et la Nord de la France, Nos cuirassiers se sont montrés aussi dignes leurs pères à la bataille de Reichshoffen. Du côté allemand, les cavaliers se rendaient et offraient leurs armes; ce fut une ruée terrible où nous eûmes l’avantage, l’ennemi fut repoussé sur plusieurs kilomètres. C’est ainsi que se battent nos hommes. Avec un superbe mépris de la mort, ils courrent [sic] à travers la mitraille sous les plis sacrés de nos drapeaux, ils sont dignes de la victoire._
Furious fighting was delivered in Belgium and the North of France.
Our cuirassiers have proved as worthy as their fathers at the battle of Reichschoffen. On the German side, the cavalry troops surrendered and offered their weapons. There was a terrible scramble where we had the advantage: the enemy was repelled on several kilometres. It is in this way our men fight. With a superb contempt of death, running through hails of bullets under the sacred folks of our flags, they are worthy of victory.