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The taxi driving heroes of Marne

On Armistice Day, we look at The Miracle Of Marne and how Parisian taxi drivers wrote themselves into First World War folklore.

The Battle of the Marne was a battle fought between the 6th and the 10th September 1914. The battle resulted in an Allied victory against the German armies in the west. The battle was the end result of the German advance into France which followed the Battle of the Frontiers in August,  this eventually reached the eastern outskirts of Paris. The following counter-attack by six French armies and the British Expeditionary Force along the Marne River forced the German Army to flee north-west. This led to the First Battle of the Aisne and the Race to the Sea. The battle was a victory for the Allies but led to four years of trench warfare on the Western Front. 

On September 4th 1914,  General Joseph Jacques Césaire "Papa" Joffre ordered the Sixth Army to attack eastward towards Château Thierry as the British Expeditionary Force made its way towards Montmirail. The Fifth Army attacked northwards with its eastern flank protected by the Ninth Army along the St. Gond marshes. September 5th saw the Battle of the Ourcq commence when the Sixth Army advanced eastwards from Paris. The same morning it clashed with cavalry patrols of the IV Reserve Corps of General Hans von Gronau, on the right flank of the 1st Army west of the Ourcq River. With the early initiative seized, the two divisions of IV Reserve Corps attacked with both field artillery and infantry into the Sixth Army and forced a retreat. Overnight, the IV Reserve Corps withdrew 6 miles to the east, while Von Kluck, alerted to the approach of the Allied forces, began to turn his army to face west. 

Gronau ordered the II Corps to move back  across the Marne to the north bank, which started  the redeployment of all four 1st Army corps to the northern bank of the Marne. This move prevented the Sixth Army from crossing the Ourcq. This however was a major tactical error as von Kluck ignored the French and British forces advancing from the south against his left flank, a 30 mile gap then emerged in the German lines between the 1st Army and the 2nd Army on its left, in effect splitting the German forces. 

The Allies took advantage of this break in the German lines, sending in the British Expeditionary Force as well as the Fifth Army into the gap between the two German armies. The right flank of the Fifth Army attacked on September 6th and pinned down the 2nd Army in the Battle of the Two Morins. The British Expeditionary Force then advanced on September 6th to the 8th, they crossed the Petit Morin, captured bridges over the Marne, and established a bridgehead. The Fifth Army by September 8th had crossed the Petit Morin, which forced the withdrawal of the right flank of the 2nd Army. The following day the Fifth Army recrossed the Marne, the German 1st and 2nd Armies began to retreat. The Sixth Army was reinforced on the night of 7/8 September 7th and the 8th by 10,000 French reserve infantry ferried from Paris. This included several thousand men from the Seventh Division who were transported by a fleet of Parisian taxis who had been requisitioned by General Gallieni. This helped thwart German hopes of taking the Sixth Army. 

On September 7th, 1914, approximately six hundred taxis gathered at Les Invalides in central Paris, under the orders of General Joseph-Simon Gallieni, military governer of Paris, to carry soldiers to the front at Nanteuil-le-Haudouin, approximaty 30 miles away. The lead column of about 150 empty taxis left Paris that night under  Lieutenant Lefas and travelled to Tremblay-les-Gonesses for further orders. The taxi columns advance was slow and laborious as breakdowns occurred. Concerns were raised as no orders awaited the drivers at the Tremblay. At around 4am on September 7th the expedition had now expanded to over 400 vehicles was directed to Dammartin to await further orders from the 6th Army. 

As more taxis arrived from Paris, the entire convoy, which also included trucks, limousines, and unbelievably, racing cars, drove to a rail siding to load the arriving infantrymen of the 103rd and 104th regiments. The departure for the front was made at dusk.  

Each taxi carried five soldiers (not including the driver). The rear lights of the taxis were the only lights allowed to be lit. Taxi drivers were ordered to follow the lights of the taxi in front of them. Most of the taxis were sent back to take a second load and were then demobilised on September 8th,  although some did remain in military service to extricate the wounded. The taxis followed the regulations imbued on them by the city of Paris which inuded running their meters. The French treasury reimbursed 27% of the total fare, amounting to 70,012 francs. 

Although the exact figure is unknown, it is estimated that the arrival of between 4 and 6000 soldiers by taxi has been described as critical in stopping a possible German breakthrough against the 6th Army.

In memory of the 85,000 French, 1,701 British and 67,700 German soldiers that lost their lives or were casualties of this battle, as well as every soldier that perished or were injured in World War 1. May they Rest in Peace.


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