As we near the 100 anniversary of the start of WW1. I would like to share another historical treasure that I have inherited. My great Aunt Hazel Gammon was a volunteer nurse during WW1 and she was able to pick up quite a few souvenirs. This particular treasure is from the famous Reims Cathedral.
The Reims Cathedral was shelled by the Germans on September 20th, 1914 and severly damaged. Presumably, Aunt Hazel was able to pick up a few pieces of the cathedral out of the copious wreckage littering the streets. Included in the collection appears to be a large piece of painted plaster with a star, a few bits of glass (stained glass?) and oddly… a rusted button.
There was also a handwritten note that identifies these items, but is seems to have a few errors.The date appears to be incorrect (19th versus the 20th?) the name of the cathedral is misspelled, and it indicates the Cathedral was “bombed”.. but it was actually shelled with artillery. I am going to chalk this up to some confusion after the fact.
At any rate, the shelling of the Reims Cathedral was quite a propaganda point for France during WW1. This act was used to highlight the brutal nature of the Germans. The official French response to this act is as follows:
Without the excuse of even a semblance of military necessity, for the pure pleasure of destruction, German troops have systematically and furiously bombarded the cathedral in Reims. The famous basilica is now no more than a heap of ruins. It is the duty of the Government of the Republic to denounce this revolting act of vandalism, which in committing this monument to our history to the flames, robs the whole of humanity of an irreplaceable piece of its artistic heritage.
It would appear there is still some debate about why the Germans did this. Some claim the French were using the cathedral for military purposes including a signalling point and weapons storage and thus the shelling was legitimate. Others claim it was purely an accident. Perhaps the real reason is lost to history. However, the destruction was sensationalized to the utmost by the French. Postcards were a popular way to get this message out and I have included a number of these with thee of them displaying dramatic pictures of the damage done to the cathedral.