Marne - Chemin des Dames Cerdded y Llinell


Marne - Chemin des Dames

Bydd Hywel Teifi Edwards a Iolo Williams yn ymweld ag ardaloedd Marne a Champagne. Iolo Williams and Hywel Teifi Edwards follow in the footsteps of Welsh soldiers during the Fir...


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-As we travel along the Western Front

-the horrors of World War I continue.

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-We drive south to an area where

-the French fought for their lives.

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-We leave the British part of

-the line behind, at the Somme...

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-..and travel towards

-the Champagne area...

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-..following the Western Front of

-the Great War until we reach Marne.

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-This part of the story

-is all about France.

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-To understand the Marne,

-we return to the start of the War...

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-..to August 1914.

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-France, having lost Alsace

-and Lorraine to Germany...

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-..in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian

-War, was resentful and bitter.

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-By the summer of 1914,

-Europe was a boiling cauldron.

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-Many were thirsty for power

-and wanted to extend their empires.

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-When Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke

-Franz Ferdinand dead in Sarajevo...

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-..the powers of Europe

-quickly prepared for war.

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-There was genuine enthusiasm

-for going to war.

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-France were eager for revenge

-and mobilised a million men...

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-..but Germany had unashamedly been

-preparing for war for a decade.

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-Germany hoped to snatch an early

-victory at the start of the war...

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-..before turning on Russia.

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-This was the Schlieffen Plan.

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-By the end of August 1914, German

-armies were sweeping towards Paris.

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-Both the French armies and the BEF

-soldiers were in a sorry state...

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-..but they pushed back to Marne

-after 12 days of constant attack.

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-1914 saw one of the hottest summers

-for over 150 years.

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-The French infantry uniforms were

-quite inappropriate for that heat.

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-They wore red trousers, long coats,

-flannel shirts, broadcloth tunics...

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-..and the terrible Brodequin boots.

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-The French retreated carrying their

-Label rifles and 60-pound backpacks.

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-"The Prussians are coming" was

-the cry that echoed through France.

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-The French retreated over 100 miles

-in the first week.

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-It was a military retreat

-of epic proportions.

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-With the Germans nearing Paris, the

-French planned to evacuate the city.

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-Paris had to be defended and General

-Joffre ordered a defensive line...

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-..to be held south east of the city

-and south of the river Marne.

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-The exhausted BEF

-came to support them.

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-Britain and France, in international

-agreement, attacked the Germans.

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-This took place on

-6th September 1914.

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-The French army, led by

-General Manoury, had 150,000 men.

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-They attacked Germany's 1st Army

-on the flanks.

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-This opened a 50km gap between

-the 1st and 2nd German armies.

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-The French threw everything they had

-at the enemy for three whole days.

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-They believed in "l'offensive a

-l'outrance", an all-out offensive...

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-..in order to conquer the enemy.

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-But in September 1914,

-this was little more than suicide.

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-Human flesh was no match for

-the machine guns and artillery.

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-Manoury's brave 6th French Army

-came close to defeat.

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-The French were losing men

-at an alarming rate.

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-Reserves were badly needed as the

-Germans were about to break through.

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-One amazing story of World War I

-is when 6,000 French troops...

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-..raced to the front in the quickest

-way possible - a fleet of taxis!

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-They were requisitioned,

-filled with water and petrol...

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-..and assembled at the

-'Invalides' at Paris.

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-With no definite orders, soldiers

-went to the front in the taxis.

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-With the meter running,

-the French line was held!

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-On the 8th September...

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-..the French 5th Army launched

-an attack on the German 2nd Army.

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-Germany's Chief of Staff,

-Von Moltke was now a broken man.

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-He suffered knowing he'd sent

-thousands of Germany's finest men...

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-..to their death.

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-His conscience was bruised and hurt.

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-The battle hung in balance and

-the Germans could well have won...

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-..but he played safe,

-fearing a French breakthrough...

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-..and ordered a German retreat.

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-The Germans fell back to the river

-Aisne and started digging trenches.

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-This was the beginning of trench

-warfare and a bloody stalemate.

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-The French refer to this battle

-as 'The Miracle of the Marne'...

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-..but this was a costly miracle.

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-Time and time again on this journey,

-what really hits us...

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-..is the unbelievable numbers and

-sheer scale of loss of young lives.

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-The French suffered losses

-in excess of 250,000.

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-The Germans suffered

-similar losses...

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-..and the British

-only

-suffered 13,000 casualties.

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-Our journey now takes us

-from Marne towards Reims.

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-As we travel to that city,

-we stop at Chateau-Thierry...

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-..in the Champagne area and we

-must leap forward in time to 1918.

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-The Germans gambled everything they

-had in the last year of the war.

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-Following the Russian Revolution

-of 1917, the Germans had more men...

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-..and equipment to send

-to the Western Front.

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-It is debatable whether the Germans

-had to take this risk in 1918...

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-..but they were worried.

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-Four years of war had taken

-its toll on their resources.

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-Britain's naval blockade

-was damaging the German economy.

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-The German people were tired

-of the war and were starving...

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-..and the Kaiser faced a new enemy -

-America had joined the war.

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-America, with its seemingly endless

-manpower and resources.

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-Before the Americans deployed their

-full might on the Western Front...

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-..Germany struck a mighty blow

-and broke through.

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-In this final initiative,

-they swept across the Somme...

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-..the river Aisne

-and once again threatened Paris.

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-They appeared to have found the key

-that unlocked the Western Front.

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-This is Chateau-Thierry, the high

-water mark of the German advance.

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-The inexperienced Americans raced

-to battle, full of enthusiasm...

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-..reminiscent of

-the British at the Somme.

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-The Americans first fought at

-Chateau-Thierry on 3rd June 1918...

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-..as they stopped the Germans

-crossing the Marne.

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-Inspired by this comparative success

-they went on to take Belleau Wood...

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-..a German strong point.

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-But as we saw

-on the Somme at Mametz...

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-..taking control of a defended wood

-is easier said than done.

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-The American Marines attacked

-the Germans here at Belleau Wood...

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-..on 6th July 1918.

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-They were clumsy and naive, yet

-brave in their tactics of attack.

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-Wave after wave fell into

-a wall of machine gun fire.

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-It took them nearly 20 days

-to clear this wood...

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-..but they lost 10,000 men

-including half of their officers.

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-This action effectively brought

-an end to German advances in 1918.

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-From here on,

-it was retreat all the way.

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-The French have named the wood

-'Bois de la Brigade de Marine'...

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-..in honour of the tenacious

-Americans who fought and died here.

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-As we leave Chateau-Thierry

-and the Belleau wood...

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-..we reach a famous and

-historic city in France.

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-This is Reims, or 'Rance'

-as pronounced correctly in French.

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-It's famous for its cathedral.

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-Many French Kings

-were crowned here...

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-..including Charles VII in 1429.

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-On that occasion, the legendary

-Joan of Arc was at his side.

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-These days, its history

-and produce attract visitors.

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-Today, it's a place to relax.

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-Here we are.

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-Champagne is serious business

-in this city.

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-They say the best Champagne houses

-are situated in and around the city.

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-Reims never fell into German hands

-but it was never far from danger...

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-..due to its close proximity

-to the front line.

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-Just like Ypres, the place was

-badly damaged by heavy shelling...

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-..but it's been meticulously

-rebuilt.

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-It's a lovely city and

-they've done a good job.

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-It's wonderful, so let's drink

-a toast to its resurrection.

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-It's wonderful, so let's drink

-a toast to its resurrection.

-

-Cheers!

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-It's nearly as good as

-a pint of Buckleys in Llangennech.

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-It's nearly as good as

-a pint of Buckleys in Llangennech.

-

-Not quite!

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-Joan of Arc saved France in her day

-but who was going to save Reims...

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-..and France in 1917

-in the dark days of World War I?

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-A few miles outside Reims

-is the Chemin des Dames.

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-It's a 12-mile ridge that

-stretches from east to west.

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-Louis X named this ridge the

-Chemin des Dames or The Ladies Way.

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-He built the road so his daughters

-could visit their favourite teacher.

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-It's an advantage of being a king.

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-The area is very flat, on the whole,

-but to the north west of Reims...

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-..the landscape changes

-into a large wooded ridge.

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-This was another difficult area

-to control.

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-This natural barrier split the

-Ailette valley in the north...

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-..and the Aisne valley in the south.

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-In 1917, the Germans

-held this ridge.

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-The ridge, with its miles

-of underground caverns...

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-..was the scene of one of the most

-tragic battles of World War I.

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-By 1917, France was

-short of hope and heroes...

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-..and along came this man -

-General Robert Nivelle.

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-A charming, charismatic, persuasive

-man who spoke excellent English...

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-..and to all accounts,

-a new leader.

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-He offered France an answer to the

-stalemate on the Western Front...

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-..no less than a breakthrough

-and victory.

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-The plan was simple.

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-A quick but overwhelming

-artillery attack...

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-..coupled with well-prepared

-infantry attacks...

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-..an all-out attack

-by 27 divisions.

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-Many voiced their concerns

-so Nivelle offered to resign...

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-..but France was tired

-and desperate for a victory.

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-Too many promises had been made

-and to stop now was unthinkable.

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-Just like the British

-on the Somme...

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-..the French believed they would

-take part in

-the

-offensive...

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-..that would end the War and drive

-the Germans out of France for good.

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-Thousands gathered behind the lines

-of attack on the Chemin des Dames.

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-Victory was at hand and Nivelle

-appeared drunk on hope and power.

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-The key element of this

-offensive was secrecy...

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-..but it was

-the worst-kept secret in France!

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-Nivelle was less than discreet

-at social gatherings in Paris.

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-He was portrayed as the man who'd

-save France and defeat the enemy.

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-As you'd expect, he loved the role.

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-One could say that he spoke

-too much about his own qualities.

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-The Germans had contacts in Paris

-who learnt of the plans...

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-..months before the attack

-was to take place.

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-The Germans even found

-the exact battle plans...

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-..on the body of a dead French

-officer just days before the attack.

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-They moved swiftly to prepare.

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-The Chemin des Dames is a warren

-of tunnels and underground caves...

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-..that can protect thousands of

-soldiers from any bombardment.

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-The Germans took advantage of this

-and the French faced a disaster.

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-The attack on and around the Chemin

-des Dames began on 16th April 1917.

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-The weather was dreadful and the

-French shivered in the icy rain...

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-..as they waited for

-the signal to advance.

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-Just like the Somme, when the

-French came out of the trenches...

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-..they realised the 'overwhelming

-barrage' had been ineffective.

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-The barbed wire was uncut.

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-Germans rushed from their

-dugouts to man the defences.

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-It was a terrible massacre.

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-The French were slaughtered

-in their thousands.

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-It was suicide.

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-By nightfall on that dreadful day

-in April 1917...

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-..the French had suffered

-over 90,000 casualties.

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-Nivelle refused to accept failure

-and insisted the attacks continue.

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-They still failed despite

-the heroic efforts of the soldiers.

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-The fighting was just as barbaric

-in the deep underground caves...

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-..and the miles of corridors

-of the Chemin des Dames...

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-..where soldiers on both sides

-tunnelled to survive.

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-This is the Dragon's Cave

-of the Chemin des Dames.

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-How do you feel in such a place that

-evokes the early stages of mankind?

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-Usually, people go to such places in

-search of fossils and odd wildlife.

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-Here, man has found refuge in

-these caves for millions of years.

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-But then men were driven here

-to wage war.

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-The progressives would say

-that man evolved from these places.

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-When you think of World War I...

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-..you are struck by the numbers

-of soldiers from both sides...

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-..who were driven back underground.

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-It's just amazing.

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-They even had a hospital

-and some 6,000 soldiers here.

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-The machine gun was pointless here,

-so they made their own weapons.

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-Their knuckle dusters had bullets

-in them to smash enemy faces.

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-Some spades had edges like knives

-whilst others were like a saw.

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-You'd think it was an era where

-weapons were carved from stone.

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-I'm also amazed by human nature

-throughout the centuries.

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-In the depths of barbarianism

-we find the desire to create.

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-We try to create something whilst

-living in the worst of situations.

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-It can be seen in the chapel which

-is similar to that built at Henllan.

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-They wanted something better

-for themselves.

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-I also think of the politicians

-who are meant to lead nations...

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-..into a bright future.

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-They are responsible for sending

-the soldiers to such places.

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-This was hell, but another

-living hell awaited them.

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-This was hell, but another

-living hell awaited them.

-

-Yes, exactly.

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-Early man evolved from this

-darkness into the light...

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-..but the soldiers of 1914-18

-arose into an even worse hell.

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-We've seen many memorable places but

-this is the most powerful of all.

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-It's taken 15 minutes to see only

-a small percentage of the tunnels.

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-It's incredible.

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-We return to the eternal fact that

-man will do anything to win a war.

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-We learn nothing.

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-We learn nothing.

-

-No, not a lot, that's true.

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-Nivelle was relieved of command

-on 25th April.

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-After abandoning

-the disastrous attack...

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-..the French had suffered

-200,000 casualties.

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-By the end of

-this disastrous attack...

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-..I'm not surprised that elements

-of the French army began to mutiny.

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-They had fought fiercely...

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-..to stop the Germans from

-claiming the holy French soil...

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-..but the suicidal attacks

-had to stop - enough was enough.

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-I'm surprised that

-this hadn't happened earlier.

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-Those who had survived the fighting

-had seen enough at Verdun...

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-..a year earlier.

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-One could say that Verdun

-was possibly the saddest...

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-..and bloodiest place in France.

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Bydd Hywel Teifi Edwards a Iolo Williams yn ymweld ag ardaloedd Marne a Champagne. Iolo Williams and Hywel Teifi Edwards follow in the footsteps of Welsh soldiers during the First World War.