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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XXXIII


1871. MARCH. ENEMIES WITHIN PARIS

German troops enter—" Occupation" ended—Troubles within—Officier de la Lgion d'Honneur—Destruction by war—Visit to Versailles—Review by German Emperor—Railway ambulance—Communists on Montmartre—Mission ended.

THE representative statues in the Place de la Concorde were enshrouded; guards placed on either side of positions to be occupied by the Germans. On the morning of March i, the head of a dense column of troops was seen approaching the Arc de Triomphe; that monument passed, the "Army of Occupation" steadily made its way downwards along the Champs Elysées. In front of all rode a young officer, fair in complexion, his face pale, lips compressed, expression grave and resolute; his name, as we subsequently learned, Bershardy, lieutenant in the 14th Prussian Hussars. Some signs of disturbance were shown among French onlookers; they were quickly suppressed; all knew that the guns of Mont Valérien pointed towards the city; that by them stood German gunners. All through the morn- ing troops poured in, until 30,000 men—the number agreed upon— were within their assigned places; among them the Leib Regiment of Bavaria, the losses of which in the war exceeded numerically its strength when leaving Germany. It was now that the striking contrast in physique, venue, and discipline presented by the newly-arrived forces, as compared with those to whom we had been so long accustomed, was strikingly apparent to all spectators; doubtless to Parisians themselves.

Forty-eight hours, including one entire day, was the period mutually agreed upon as that during which the German forces were to remain within Paris. Precautions against collision between them and the populace were so successfully taken that crowds looked on and quietly listened to the foreign bands within their precincts. In other parts of the city, however, signs of restiveness were visible. Among the German troops, on the contrary, all was orderly and soldierlike. Early on the morning of the 3rd, "evacuation" of the city began, and within a few hours was completed. Not until the rear column had passed the Arc de Triomphe did the mob, that meantime hung upon their flanks, begin to "demonstrate"; a section of the withdrawing troops faced round; the demonstrators fled helter-skelter. The work of sweeping and burning refuse in the great thoroughfares was soon begun; it continued during the day; by evening Paris looked as if it had not been entered by a victorious army.

During the following night, internal troubles assumed the first definite shape of that in which they were soon to culminate. The National Guards withdrew from the Parc de Monceau some of the guns entrusted to them, together with their equipment and ammunition, to arrange them in order on lvlontmartre; others were taken to the disaffected quarters, as Belleville and Vilette; while a definite plan of further action was come to by the Communists. In the emergency so presented, no apparent action was taken by the responsible authorities; citizen "soldiers" were permitted to retain arms, the use of which they had recently learned; with what result was speedily to be seen. During the next few days scenes of pillage were enacted, wherever stores, of whatever kind, existed; barricades were thrown up; other preparations, in various ways, made alike for defence and offence. As events developed, the commandant appointed to the National Guards was repudiated by the men; they demanded that they should have the right to elect their own commander and other officers. Battalions displayed the red flag; marched to the Place de la Concorde; placed the emblem of Revolution upon the statues there, and upon public monuments elsewhere. On the 10th, as the Germans marched from Versailles, the Communists placed on Montmartre the remaining guns, making a total of 417. Seven days thereafter the horrors of the Commune began.

While the German army was entering Paris, I had the honour of being entertained at a dêjei2ner by the members of the Ambulance de la Presse, on the occasion of the distinction of Officier de la Legion d'Honneur' being conferred upon me by the Provisional Government. The venerable Professor Ricord was pleased to make me the subject of a toast, alluding in kind terms to my association with the French army and ambulances; then, taking from his own button-hole the rosette of the Order so highly prized, he placed it in mine.

An excursion to a little distance beyond Montrouge revealed a sad example of destruction houses reduced to heaps of rubbish, with here and there a fragment of cracked wall left standing among them; masses of charred timbers; furniture and what had been ornamental pieces strewn about in fragments among debris of various kinds, including dead animals. From among ruined walls of gardens and conservatories green young shoots of plants, revived by sunshine of early spring, served, by contrast with the scene of destruction around, to impress us the more. Were it possible for crowned heads of Europe to make a similar round, it might ensure peace for one generation. So thought we as we continued our walk through miles of devastation.

Making a journey to Versailles, the party of which I was one passed by the heights beyond Meudon, on which were ranged the guns until recently employed in bombarding Paris, but now parked preparatory to being sent back to Germany. Several of them were seriously damaged; others presented traces of work done by them in "the terrible battery," also visited by us; its condition, abandoned to ruin. Thence we looked towards Vaugirard and vicinity, where greatest destruction by its shells took place. At Versailles, while dining in the grande salle of the Hotel des Reservoirs, then filled with Prussian officers, we saw among them Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern, the nomination of whom to the Spanish throne was the ostensible cause of the needless war now ended. Visiting in the Chateau the Galerie of Louis XIV., it was seen converted into an ambulance ward, its paintings damaged and torn as a result of wind and weather admitted through windows kept open for purposes of ventilation. The less severely wounded had been dispatched to Fatherland; those remaining were too seriously injured to admit of being removed; in cots, above the heads of which stood canvas representations of the "glories of France," shattered frames of recent conquerors lay in agony.

Under the wing of a Times correspondent, I witnessed on the heights of Villiers a review by the German Emperor of three corjs d'arme'e, consisting respectively of Bavarians, Saxons, and Wurtembergers, all under command of the Crown Prince of Prussia. As the troops took positions assigned to them, it was observed by our friend, who had accompanied them from Rhine to Seine, that their numbers scarcely equalled half of those who entered France. An impression was said to exist among the Bavarians that more frequently than other corps they were so placed as to bear the first brunt of battle, and thus exposed to more than was fair of risks in action. It was further said that considerations of creed and politics had much to do with such an arrangement; hence some fears were expressed lest unpleasantness might now occur. All present, therefore, felt a sense of relief when, as the Emperor, surrounded by his brilliant staff, rode on to the ground, a cheer burst from all ranks assembled. The inspection over, the troops marched off, the Crown Prince at their head. Next day the return to Berlin began, the pride of victory no doubt saddened by memories of thousands from among them, to be left buried in alien soil.

Being given an opportunity of testing railway arrangements for transport homewards of German wounded, I embarked at Pantin station in a train of that description. It was fully occupied by wounded men, for whose requirements and comfort every arrangement was complete, including staff and attendants. While in the train I was most courteously and hospitably received by the staff. The journey taken was somewhat long, nor did I get back to disturbed Paris till late at night.

A visit to Montmartre enabled me to see the manner of disposal and position of guns from the Parc de Monceau, now in hands of the Garde Nationale, who have openly declared for the Commune. My companion and myself, recognised as foreigners, were courteously escorted, first to one battery, then to another, comments meanwhile freely made by those accompanying us in regard to their plan of action. Still, as far as we were able to understand, no counter-measures were taken by the authorities; and so the rising flood of revolution increased in volume and power, to burst disastrously three days thereafter.

In obedience to orders I quitted Paris for England by evening train on March 14. Early next morning I was with my beloved wife, whose anxieties and fears during my absence had told upon her health. So ended the important episode in which I had taken part.


 


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