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Statue of Marshall Foch

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File WORK 20/193 at The National Archives gives us some background information on the equestrian statue of Marshal Foch in Grosvenor Gardens.

The file opens with a letter dated 1st November 1929 from The Anglo-French Luncheon Club to H.M.Office of Works announcing that the Duke of Westminster was giving a small plot of land in Grosvenor Gardens to accommodate a statue to Marshal Foch.

Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929) was a career soldier who was given command of the 9th Army during the First Battle of the Marne in 1914 and then promoted and given command of the Northern Army on the Western Front. Made a scapegoat for the French effort during the Somme offensive in 1916 he was sent to the Italian front. He was however recalled and made Chief of the General Staff in 1918 and in March of that year was given overall control of the Allied forces.

At the Second Battle of the Marne, Foch led a successful halting of the German “Spring Offensive” and mounted a counter-attack. This saw the tide turn and, after several months of bitter fighting, with the German Army in retreat,the German surrender in November 1918. It was Foch who accepted the German surrender.

There are many memorials to Foch in France, with equestrian statues in Cassel and in Tarbes his birthplace. He is also remembered in a plaque at Dormans, the French memorial commemorating both Battles of the Marne, unveiled in 1930 by the Prince of Wales and also a statue at Bouchavesne. A photograph of the Dormans plaque and the Bouchavesne Statue are shown below.

Foch’s achievements are recorded on the plaque. It records that the French Army, fighting side by side with the British, the Americans and the Italians, reconquered the Tardenois,took 25,000 prisoners and captured 610 Guns, 220 mine throwers, and 3,000 machine guns. It also records how they were able to take the initiative and throw the enemy back to the frontiers, all of which was a prelude to total liberation and the final victory of the Allies.

The village of Bouchavesne, with it’s neighbour Rancourt, was of great strategic importance given its position on the main Baupaume to Peronne road. On 12th September 1916 the Chasseurs Regiment, led by the former Minister of War Messimy, charged and took the German position with fixed bayonets. Their advance was checked the next day following German Artillery bombardment but the French held this line until the end of the Battle of the Somme. They had in fact advanced almost 10 kilometres from their start position at Maricourt on the 1st July 1916.It was the Australians who finally liberated the village on the 4th September 1918 and at the entrance to the village is a fine statue of Field Marshall Foch. The Statue is shown above.

After the opening letter referred to above, the correspondence involves H.M.Office of Works ,the Royal Fine Art Commission, The Grosvenor Office (on behalf of the Duke of Westminster), the Imperial War Museum (seeking permission to show a model of the Foch statue), and The Marshal Foch Memorial Fund,

The file ends a letter of 27th January 1939. By then the statue had been erected, unveiled in 1930 and correspondence had moved to the more mundane areas of cleaning and maintenance..

From the letters in the intervening period we learn:-

1. That the statue was the work of the French sculptor, Georges Malissard, and was a replica of that erected at Cassel in France.

2. There was some unhappiness at having to accept work by a French sculptor and views were expressed as to the merit of Malissard’s work. Lord Crawford (seemingly associated with the Fine Art Commission) writes on 26th November 1929. “I suppose it is finally settled that we shall have a copy of the French figure? It is a very poor and commonplace thing, and extremely expensive into the bargain: for £ 5,000 we could almost get a work made by a British artist. The French projected statue of Lord Haig is of course to be made by a Frenchman. Is there no chance of getting the work for one of our own people? We would give Malissard a lesson! “ There was also talk of having the statue erected at Aldershot rather than it standing in Grosvenor Gardens.

3. The base was designed by another Frenchman, F.Lebret.

4. In the file are numerous press cuttings featuring letters to “The Times” which continue the argument that the work should have been given to a British sculptor.

5. There was much discussion as to whether the statue be erected at the northern end of the Grosvenor Gardens, this favoured by the Fine Art Commission, or the southern end, this very much favoured by the Marshal Foch Memorial Fund and the Duke of Westminster. The main reason for the latter’s preference was that they wished the statue to be in a position were it could be seen “by all Frenchmen arriving at Victoria, and by the Guards marching to and from Chelsea Barracks” In the end the southern end was chosen.

It is interesting to note that in 1952 the garden was given a “make-over” in the French style and was dedicated to Marshal Foch in a ceremony on the 19th July of that year. Amongst those present were the French Ambassador, Monsieur Massigli, and Mr.Selwyn Lloyd, Minister of State.

A recently taken photograph is shown below and the inscription at the front of the base. On the left side of the base there is the inscription “I am conscious of having served England as I served my country”