"World War 1...Seconds out, Round 2" Compiègne by JohnnySpangles

Compiègne Travel Guide: 23 reviews and 54 photos

I can tell you very little of the town of Compiegne. We probably drove through it to get to where we were heading but I guess it must have been a bit of a ‘blink and you miss it’ sort of a place….and I blinked. Please accept my ‘umble apologies if you actually live in Compiegne and it is a vibrant, buzzing place with something for all the family. However if you want it to be noticed then you should probably make more noise about it. Next time I’m driving through maybe you could arrange something on the roadside like a clown on stilts juggling some kittens to attract my attention and thus make me tarry a while.

Where we were heading was a clearing in the forest called the Armistice Clearing. This is where the German surrender was accepted by Marshal Foch, in a railway carriage, on the 11th November 1918. Thereafter the date was called Armistice Day. I presume the date wasn’t called that already, and the signing of the end of the First World War on that day was just coincidence.

There is a big slab of marble in the middle of two railway tracks where the respective carriages of the Germans and the Allies stood on that day. There’s also a big monument to the French that died in the Great War.

But the story doesn’t stop there. There aren’t many places that get greedy about having more than one shot at a place in history. For example you don’t hear much about the Great Fire of Waterloo or the Alamo Tea Party. However this particular forest clearing wanted much more than its allotted fifteen minutes of fame and it finally paid an infamous price for setting up monuments and boasting about surrendering Germans. This was when Hitler turned up in France in 1941. Never mind the elicit joys of the Rue St Denis in Paris or the fleshpots of murky Marseille, nope Hitler made straight for the same forest clearing in order to accept the surrender of the French where the Germans had been humiliated. He also covered up the French Dead monument with a swastika flag. Talk about a sore loser.

The French, in a supreme outpouring of ‘we won the war’ had even built a museum around Marshal Foch’s coach. You can still see it today in the same museum. Or rather you can’t… but they don’t tell you that until you’ve paid your couple of Euros to get in. This is because Hitler nicked the original coach and dragged it back to Berlin, where it got burned in the Tiergarten when the Russians invaded. The coach in the museum in the clearing is ‘a very similar one’. This is told to you after you’ve listened to about ten minutes of audio commentary telling you what a wonderful place in history the coach occupies.

Anyway don’t let it put you off, you can half close your eyes and pretend it’s the real thing. Far more impressive in this museum though, is about thirty stereoscope machines with the same number of original First World War stereo slides in each one. These are stunning and you do come out feeling as if you were there. I’ve never seen a display of stereo images like it and well worth the visit for those alone. Unfortunately the museum shop is fairly minging and, apart from a nice line in pistachio ice-creams, there’s no way of taking these amazing pictures home with you. It’s a shame the Germans didn’t end up running the shop, I’m sure it would have been a lot better.

  • Last visit to Compiègne: Aug 2011
  • Intro Updated Sep 3, 2011
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JohnnySpangles

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