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La Marseillaise. Plateau Craonne

La Marseillaise. Plateau Craonne Unknown artist
La Marseillaise. Plateau Craonne
La Marseillaise. Plateau Craonne
Woodcut with hand colouring through stencils. Publisher: Tolmer & Co. 1915.
Given by Sophie Gurney 1994

No. 47 from the 2nd series La Grande Guerre .

The print captures the moment when a French soldier sang the Marseillaise on the edge of a trench taken from German forces at Craonne, in the Aisne region. The desolate expanse on the left is a reminder that the term ‘front’ took on a new meaning during 1914-15. Thousands of square kilometers were organized as a complex network of parallel ditches separated by ‘no man’s land’ (so called in English and French).

The singing of songs in the trenches brings to mind the fraternizing across no man’s land during the most famous tacit truce, on Christmas day 1914, when British and German soldiers sang carols and exchanged gifts. Certainly less well known in this country is the connection to La Chanson de Craonne (known by the first line of the chorus, Adieu la vie , ‘Goodbye to life’), which become known in 1917 as an anti-war song.

This print and the one on the previous page are the only two in the series where the image extends beyond the frame, an effective detail, revealing how the design of the prints has advanced since its outset.

The French caption with English translation:

LA MARSEILLAISE. Sur le Plateau de Craonne
A Craonne la lutte fut tragique. Les Allemands arrivaient en rangs serrés enivrés, par leurs officiers, d’alcool et d’éther : nos lignards les attendaient calmement, les laissant approcher à cent mètres d’eux. Alors un coup de sifflet retenait. A ce signal nos libels ouvrirent le feu, nos mitrailleuses claquèrent. Les Allemands tombaient par grappes et bientôt, pour eux, ce fut la retraite. Tout à coup, sur la tranchée conquise, un homme se dressa et dans une sorte d’exaltation sublime, d’une voix basse et vigoureuse, entonna La Marseillaise. Ce fut une bien éloquente réponse au chant de la fusillade.

La Marseillaise. Plateau Craonne
The fight at Craonne was tragic. The Germans arrived in interlocking ranks, intoxicated by their officers, on alcohol and ether. Our linemen were waiting calmly, close to a hundred yards away. Then a whistle sounded. At this signal our guns opened fire, our machine guns chattering. The Germans fell in clusters and soon started to retreat. Suddenly on the re-conquered trench a man stood up and in a kind of sublime exaltation, in a low and vigorous voice, sang the Marseillaise. It was a very eloquent response to the song of the shooting.


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