We all know about, and hopefully have visited, the Normandy beaches where the Allies landed in France in WWII, but how many of us are aware of the “landing” during WWI. When the Americans finally joined the first world war there was much to be done to prepare before fighting. The area of Sologne and the Cher Valley as well as the area around Dijon saw lots of American soldiers. Today we are 100 years later and the region is commemorating the WWI Centenary and the arrival and installation of the Americans in many different ways through December of this year.
“Everybody’s going Home, Toot Sweet!”
— headline from The last issue of the camp newspaper “The Saint-Aignan Windmill”, printed June 13, 1919
April 6, 1917, the United States of America declared war on Germany. June 28, the first troops landed at Saint-Nazaire. In August the construction of an immense materials depot was begun in the community of Gièvres. In the fall of 1917 the first troops of the 41st Division arrived in the Cher Valley, the troops and training camps were hosted by all the Cher Valley communities. The community of Pruniers-en-Sologne hosted an aviation construction and mechanics camp; Romorantin an automobile camp. A hospital was built in Pontlevoy (The local population had access to care by the American doctors, free of charge.), a veterinary hospital (the cavalry was still in use – though waning – in WWI) in Villefranche-sur-Cher and a signals corps in Montrichard. In less than 18 months, more than 2 million soldiers, tons of material, arms, ammunition, supplies and provisions were shipped to France. The Americans were everywhere, and the region moved to an American beat until 1919. Although this episode is little known now and there is little left that is tangible or visitable tourist-wise (some memorial markers and local museums), two of its major accomplishments are important. The first is the technical mastery demonstrated by the rapid construction of the supply depot, including a cold-storage plant second in size only to that of the world’s largest in Chicago, as well as the number of soldiers trained in the camps providing support to the American troops at the front. General John Pershing, head of the American Expeditionary Force, noted this fact twice, once during an inspection trip to the camps and later in his memoir. A second major result – was the friendship that evolved between the Doughboys and the local population. After initial skeptical observation of these men speaking a foreign language and having such a different, modern lifestyle, close ties with the local population became the rule. After the war, many soldiers kept in touch with the families that had welcomed them. Marriages were celebrated, and children born.
100 years later, several communities and organizations of the Cher Valley and Romorantin region are commemorating the WWI Centenary by organizing a cultural season with different events:
Performances and concerts
Conferences and Visits
These events aim to re-introduce a relatively little understood episode of the First World War to the local inhabitants and the general public. Its other objective is to impart this history to both the French and the American people, promote historical tourism and to retighten the bonds that the Doughboys had made with the local populace. The temporary events are open to the public, tour groups as well as young audiences. Read the details of the American bases and about the centenary events in this PDF put out by the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission, the Association France-Etats-Unis and the Pays de la Vallée du Cher et du Romorantin.
The area is easily accessible from Paris, being less than 2 hours south between Orléans, Vierzon and Tours, not far from the Loire Valley.
Related reading: A youth audience novel titled : Un Frère d’Amérique, Editions Nathan, 2010