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Webmatters : Rethondes Village
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Rethondes

Rethondes Village

It is very simple to reach this small village from the Armistice Clearing. Leave the car park and turn right. On reaching Francport turn right again onto the D81 and this will bring you directly into the village.

As you come into the older part of the village turn right and then left and park in front of the church.

The church at Rethondes

The village church at Rethondes

On the wall of the church is a plaque commemorating the visit on the evening of the 10th November 1918 by Maréchal Foch and his Chief of Staff: Général Weygand.

Foch was a deeply religious man and had come to the church to reflect on what the following day might bring. The German armistice delegation had been given until the morning to sign Foch’s proposals and as he sat there on a wooden bench he was almost certainly aware that the Germans were in the process of decrypting the replies from their new government in Berlin.

The interior of the church at Rethondes

Foch had already prepared further offensives but had held off from launching them whilst the negotiations took place. If the Germans refused the current offer of an armistice then the war would continue.

In the small hours of the morning Foch would be informed that the Germans had received their instructions – they were to agree to the armistice.

Details of the stained windows of the church at Rethondes

Part of a stained glass window

Within the church one of the stained glass windows above the altar shows the two soldiers either side of the carriage where the Armistice was signed at 0530 hours on the 11th November 1918.

Outside there are plaques near the entrance commemorating soldiers from the 1870 Franco Prussian War and of course a village war memorial. There are only a handful of villages in France that do not have war dead from either of the two world wars.

One such is the village of Avondance in the Pas de Calais only a few kilometres from the battlefield of Azincourt, scene of Henry V’s great victory.

 

The Aisne River

The Aisne River at Rethondes

The Aisne River at Rethondes

A short walk from the church will take you to the bridge over the River Aisne. Coming out of the church turn right and then turn left at the junction.

The river is very picturesque here and it is hard to imagine that in the autumn of 1918 and only a few kilometres away in the forest French railway artillery had been pounding the German positions. For most British visitors it seems a world away from Ieper, Arras or the Somme and yet the Western Front was never far away from Rethondes throughout the war.

To leave the village by vehicle drive around the church and back out over the bridge. This will bring you out onto the main Compiègne Soissons Road (N31).

 

United States Aircrew Memorial

As you walk back towards the village take the first turning on the left: rue Béjot.

The mansions on the left are those whose gardens you could see running down to the river’s edge. A few hundred metres along this street you will see a memorial on the right hand side.

It commemorates an American aircrew from the Second World War who crashed over the village on the 5th October 1944. I once spoke to an elderly lady from the street who had been a little girl on that night. It came down with a terrible bang and we all rushed out to see what had happened.

United States Aircrew Memorial at Rethondes

To the memory of the American airmen
1st Lieutenant William Flinn
2nd Lieutenant Everett G Johnson
2nd Lieutenant Wayne D Hicks
Staff Sergeant Daniel J Graff
Who fell in this area for their country
And for the liberation of France

The aircraft in question was a B-26 Marauder bomber: the Yankee Guerilla 134946 YA-L which had been flown over from the United States via Labrador, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland to the Boxted Air Base near Colchester in England. It was part of the 555th Bomb Squadron, 386th Bomb Group.

From there it flew its first mission under the same pilot Lieutenant Homer Wentz on 9th August 1943. Over the next few months it would complete 130 missions over the enemy lines.

On the 2nd October 1944 the Yankee Guerilla and its group were moved to France to an aerodrome at Beaumount sur Oise 25 kilometres to the north-west of Paris.

Despite atrocious weather, thirty six aircraft from the Group were scheduled to take part in a bombing raid against a barracks in Düren across the frontier inside Germany.

Each craft was loaded with four 1000lb bombs and was prepared for take-off at 0845 hours on the 5th October. It would be their first mission since moving to France.

The mission was hampered from the very start by the poor conditions and by the time they had reached Luxembourg Captain Tener decided that there was little point in continuing. The cloud level had become so bad that they would not be able to see the target.

Ordering a return to base the group broke off into flights of six and turned for home. As they approached the aerodrome they began to descend through the clouds and it was at this stage that it was noticed that the Yankee Guerilla was missing.

In fact the plane had been hit by German Flak guns and after a difficult flight towards its base crashed into a fortunately uninhabited farm house near this street.

Apart from the crewmen killed in the crash and commemorated on the memorial two others were also injured: Staff Sergeants R Naylor and Robert Johnson. The plane itself caught fire and was destroyed.

The memorial was raised by local subscription and unveiled on the 30th May 1946.