World War I

Moroccan Division Memorial on Vimy Ridge

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1st Moroccan Division – Zouaves and Foreign Legion

The 1st Moroccan Division Memorial is located by the entrance to the Vimy Ridge Canadian Memorial.

It stands in front of a section of the battlefield that has been preserved in its war state.

Trees were planted among the old craters in order to limit erosion, but the wooded area still bears the deep scars of the fights.

The 1st Moroccan Division consisted of regiments of Zouaves and French Foreign Legion soldiers.

They seized the ridge, however, had to retreat, leaving the Germans recover the position.

Moroccan Division Memorial on Vimy Ridge

The attack on Vimy

On May 9, 1915 the men of the 1st Moroccan Division indeed managed to break through the German lines and a small wood known as Bois Folie and started the attack on Vimy Ridge.

White squares had been sown on their back, in order to help the artillerymen positioned at the rear to localize them and adjust the range of the canons.

The men of the Moroccan Division were visible to the French, but tragically they were also visible to the Germans positioned on their flank…

They became easy targets!

The artillery then started to run out of ammunition and the much awaited reinforcement troops never arrived.

The order to retreat was therefore given by the end of the day and the position was lost.

Many men were tragically killed during this offensive.

French Colonial Forces – Zouave soldiers during WWI

Foreign Legion and Zouaves

The French Foreign Legion, which is known as an elite military unit, was founded in 1831 for foreign nationals who wanted to serve in the French Army.

Zouave was the name given to some light infantry regiments from the former French Colonies and protectorates from North Africa between 1831 and 1962.

The Zouaves were famous for their uniform, which consisted of baggy trousers and a red fez.

The regiment has been immortalized with a statue, known as Zouave du Pont de l’Alma, which stands on the bridge’s single pier in Paris.

449,000 out of the 636,000 men from the French colonies and protectorates (Algeria, Sub-Sahara Africa, Indochina, Tunisia and Morocco), who were mobilized and sent to France during WWI, enlisted as soldiers.

The others worked as unskilled workers.

70,000 of them lost their life, while defending France.

Some of these men were part of the 1st Moroccan Division who fought at Vimy Ridge.

Zouave statue on Pont de l’Alma in Paris

1st Moroccan Division Memorial

The 1st Moroccan Division Memorial pays tribute to all these foreign nationals who sacrificed their life on French soil.

The understated monument bears the Islamic crescent and is engraved with a dedication in French that reads:

“Aux Morts de la Division Marocaine

Sans Peur sans Pitié (translated into Arabic)

A la Mémoire du Colonel Pein, commandant la 1er Brigade, du Colonel Cros commandant la 2nde Brigade, des Officiers, sous-officiers de la Division Marocaine tombés ici glorieusement les 9.10.11 Mai 1915.

Le 9 Mai 1915 les régiments de la Division Marocaine s’élancant à 10 heures des tranchées de Berthonval et brisant de haute lutte la résistance des Allemands atteignirent d’un bond la cote 140 leur objectif, rompant pour la première fois le front ennemi.”

“To the Dead of the Moroccan Division

Fearless and Merciless

In memory of Colonel Pein, commanding the 1st Brigade, of Colonel Cros commanding the 2nd Brigade, of the Officers, non commissioned Officers of the Moroccan Division who in glory fell here on 09/10/11 May 1915.

On May 9, 1915 the regiments of the Moroccan Division, rushed from the Berthonval trenches at 10am, fiercely overcame the Germans’ resistance and reached Hill 140, their goal, breaking for the first time the enemy’s front.”

Department of Pas-de-Calais – Hauts de France region
Coordinates: Lat 50.379203 – Long 2.769767
Photo via Wikimedia Commons: Photo French Colonial Forces early WWI

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