Gouraud’s army had, in fact, according to the proclamation of its General, broken the attack of fifteen German divisions, supported by ten others. The success, moreover, was of the greatest strategical importance. Thus secured on his right, Foch at once transferred troops from the Fourth Army, in support of General Mangin’s counter-attack of the 18th, to the other side of the Marne salient, and Gouraud remained firmly on the watch in the position he had so victoriously held, till the moment came for his own advance in September.
I seem still to see him insisting—in spite of his lameness—on bringing the Staff maps himself from his study, marking on them the points where the fighting in the September advance was most critical, and dictating to one of his Staff the itinerary it would be best for us to take if we wished to see part, at least, of the battle-field. “And you won’t forget,” he said, looking up suddenly, “to go and see two things—the great cemetery at Chalons, and the little ’Cimetiere du Mont Muret.’” He described to me the latter, lying up in what was the main fighting line, and how they had gathered there many of the “unidentifiables”—the nameless, shattered heroes of a terrible battle-field, so that they rest in the very ground where they gave their lives. He might have told me,—but there was never a word of it, and I only knew it later—that it was in that very scene of desolation, from May, 1917, to March, 1918, that he lived among his men, building up the spirit of troops that had suffered much, physically and morally, caring for everything that concerned them, restoring a shaken discipline and forging the army which a year later was to fight with an iron steadiness under its brilliant chief.
To fight both in defence and attack. From July 15th to September 26th Gouraud remained passive in Champagne. Then on September 26th, the day before the British attack at Cambrai, he moved, with the First American Army on his right, against the strong German positions to the east of Rheims, which since the beginning of the war had barred the French way. In a battle of sixteen days, the French captured the whole of the fortified zone on this portion of the front, took 21,000 prisoners, 600 cannon and 3,500 machine guns. At the very same moment Sir Douglas Haig was driving through the Hindenburg line, and up to the west bank of the Selle, taking 48,000 prisoners and 600 guns; while the Americans were pushing through the difficult forest country of the Argonne, and along both sides of the Meuse.
The German strength was indeed weakening fast. Between July 16th and the Armistice, the British took 188,700 prisoners, the French 137,000, and the Americans 43,000.
Before we left Strasbourg on our way to the “front de Champagne,” armed with General Gouraud’s maps and directions, an hour or two of most interesting conversation threw great light for me on that other “field of victory”—Alsace-Lorraine.