Tag Archives: La Colonne de la Grande Armée

Napoleon Bonaparte, Three Ways and Twenty Separate Parts

Napoleon 1

When I was a boy, about ten or so, I used to like to make Airfix model kits.

The little models were mainly heroes from English history but curiously there was a figure of Napoleon included in the range and it was always one of my favourites, probably because he was one of the easiest to put together and to paint.  It is an odd thing but I think that Airfix kit of Napoleon Bonaparte began my interest in French history and why I went on to study the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire at University.

Napoleon Airfix

Other figures in the range were the Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry V, Henry VIII and Charles I and to balance things up there was the regicide Oliver Cromwell.

Napoleon was there but not Hitler or Stalin and alongside him representing France was Joan of Arc.

For some reason Julius Caesar who once invaded England was included but not William The Conqueror.

Airfix Figures

Who was your favourite Airfix figure?

Napoleon Bonaparte and La Colonne de la Grande Armée

Napoleon Bonaparte

Our plan today was to visit the coastal town of Wimereux but on the way we passed once more through Boulogne-Sur-Mer and stopped first of all at La Colonne de la Grande Armée.  This is a monument based on the design of Trajan’s Column in Rome which was begun in 1804 but not completed for forty years or so and is a fifty-three metre-high monument topped with a statue of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

Nelson’s column, by the way, in Trafalgar Square in London is shorter at forty-six metres high.

It marks the location of the base camp where Napoleon  assembled an army of eighty thousand men all reeking of garlic, impatient and ready to invade England.  It was initially intended to commemorate a successful invasion, but this proved to be rather premature and as he didn’t quite manage that it now commemorates instead the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur.

Read the Full Story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument

La Colonne de la Grande Armée Boulogne France

La Colonne de la Grande Armée, Boulogne-Sur-Mer, Boulogne

The column was erected in the 1840s and is a fifty-three metre-high monument topped with a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte. (Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square is shorter at forty-six metres high).  It marks the base camp where Napoleon massed France’s biggest ever army of eighty thousand men ready to invade England.

It was initially intended to commemorate a successful invasion of England, but this proved to be a bit premature and as he didn’t quite manage that it now commemorates instead the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Object

La Colonne de la Grande Armée Boulogne France

La Colonne de la Grande Armée, Boulogne-Sur-Mer, Boulogne

The column was erected in the 1840s and is a fifty-three metre-high monument topped with a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte. (Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square is shorter at forty-six metres high).  It marks the base camp where Napoleon massed France’s biggest ever army of eighty thousand men ready to invade England.

It was initially intended to commemorate a successful invasion of England, but this proved to be a bit premature and as he didn’t quite manage that it now commemorates instead the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand

La Colonne de la Grande Armée

Napoleon Bonaparte and La Colonne de la Grande Armée

“Thou shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”                                                               Exodus 20:17 – ‘The Old Testament’

It marks the location of the base camp where Napoleon  assembled an army of eighty thousand men all reeking of garlic, impatient and ready to invade England.  It was initially intended to commemorate a successful invasion, but this proved to be rather premature and as he didn’t quite manage that it now commemorates instead the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur. 

Originally, when it was first completed, the statue had looked out over the Channel towards England, the land Napoleon had confidently expected to conquer but after the Second World War, the French government turned the statue of Napoleon round to face inland, as a mark of respect to the British allies in the war and as a symbolic gesture that never again would France break one of the ten commandments and covet its neighbours property.

La Colonne de la Grande Armée

Read the full story…

Northern France, Wimereux and Ambleteuse

Northern France Wimereaux

It was only a short drive from La Colonne de la Grande Armée at Wimille to Wimereux and after only a few minutes we were parking the car again on the seafront where a lot of people were gathered to watch a sailing race just a few hundred metres out to sea.

The tide was fully in and surf was crashing over the sea defences and onto the pavement so we had to take care not to walk too close to the edge and get a soaking and stayed close to the back edge and walked past the rows of beach huts, all painted a uniform blue and white and each with a charming, sometimes obvious, sometimes esoteric, nameplate attached to it.

Wimereux became a popular seaside resort at the time of the Second Empire, a hundred and fifty years ago and today retains an air of sophistication that presents a slightly faded but still elegant seaside resort with hotels, bars, cafés and restaurants, and an alternately sandy and rocky shoreline.  

This was a charming place full of families on the beach and I was struck by the fact that if the French continue to take their children to cultured and sophisticated places to enjoy simple natural pleasures such as this lovely unspoilt place this tradition is passed on down through families and will forever be this way, down through the generations.  Contrast this with an English family that take their children to Skegness for ‘Games Zone’, fish and chips, penny arcades, bingo, candy floss and football shirts, which simply perpetuate all the disagreeable things about the English seaside. 

Wherever I go I am always struck by the fact that everywhere has a tale to tell and at Wimereux it is the story of the first recorded death in an aviation accident (not counting Icarus of course).  Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was a science teacher and one of the pioneers of aviation and he made the first manned free balloon flight on 21st November 1783 in a Montgolfier balloon. He later died when his balloon crashed near Wimereux on 15th June 1785 during, what must with hindsight surely have been, a ludicrously ambitious attempt to fly across the English Channel.

Wimereaux Northern France

The sun was shining, the temperature was rising but there was a stiff breeze blowing in from the sea so we found a bar with protective glass panels and sat with a beer and enjoyed the view across the water, the competing sail boats out at sea and the beach activity that was increasing all the time as the tide started to retreat and more people were drawn down onto the caramel sandy beach.

After our walk along the seafront we left Wimereux and drove the short distance to our next destination on the beach and added the car to a ribbon of vehicles parked along the side of the road and next to the sand dunes that neatly separated the beach from the road.  It was a short walk along a rough path to the beach and when we reached it the tide was fully out and there was a wide expanse of sand that stretched for two kilometres all the way to the little town of Ambleteuse to the north.

Ambleteuse is a picturesque village that used to be a harbour and has a lot of association with England just across the Channel. The reason it is here relates to the temporary needs of various invaders for conquering people from either side of the English Channel.  It is said that Julius Caesar used this convenient place to set out from for his invasion of Britain in 54 BC.  Henry VIII of England had two forts built here to maintain a show of power towards the French kings.  James II fleeing England after his abdication arrived here in 1689 and Fort Mahon, built to protect the harbour in the seventeenth century, was used by Napoleon to moor port of his England invasion fleet in 1805.

Nowadays Ambleteuse is a very quiet sophisticated seaside resort where fishermen’s houses line the seafront next to once grand nineteenth century villas which go back to a time when this was a popular place for holidays for people from Lille and Paris and it became a middle class holiday resort for those who enjoyed sea-bathing and hunting, shooting and fishing, playing golf, good living and fine dining.

At about this time our thoughts turned to dining for ourselves and a spot of lunch and we returned to Wimereux and returned to the restaurant that we had visited a couple of days earlier where we agreed not to order too much food and then went right ahead and did exactly that and worried again about spoiling our evening meal so we were careful and made sure that we left some on the sides of our plates so that we wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

As it was our final day we needed to purchase some cheap wine to take home and pulled in to do some shopping at a store called Auchan which was positively massive and for someone who doesn’t like shopping completely overwhelming in scale so we agreed to stay focused and after being momentarily distracted by the free samples of meat and cheese made our way straight to the wine section and made our purchases.

For our final evening we enjoyed drinks on the terrace where we chatted to fellow guests all of whom seemed to have stayed at this hotel several times before and were full of praise for the place and then we had a final excellent meal and at this point I think I knew that it was inevitable that I too would almost certainly become a returning customer myself.

Northern France, Napoleon Bonaparte and La Colonne de la Grande Armée

La Colonne de la Grande Armée

“Thou shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”                                                               Exodus 20:17 – ‘The Old Testament’

La Colonne de la Grande Armée

Today our plan was to visit the coastal town of Wimereux but on the way we passed once more through Boulogne-Sur-Mer and stopped first of all at La Colonne de la Grande Armée which is a monument constructed in the 1840s and is a fifty-three metre-high column topped with a statue of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. (Nelson’s column, by the way, in Trafalgar Square in London is shorter at forty-six metres high).

It marks the location of the base camp where Napoleon  assembled an army of eighty thousand men all reeking of garlic, impatient and ready to invade England.  It was initially intended to commemorate a successful invasion, but this proved to be rather premature and as he didn’t quite manage that it now commemorates instead the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur. 

Originally, when it was first completed, the statue had looked out over the Channel towards England, the land Napoleon had confidently expected to conquer but after the Second World War, the French government turned the statue of Napoleon round to face inland, as a mark of respect to the British allies in the war and as a symbolic gesture that never again would France break one of the ten commandments and covet its neighbours property.

This of course was a rather obvious place to plan an invasion of England because the English Channel is only twenty-five miles or so wide so provides the quickest route across. Perhaps that is why they built the channel tunnel here? So it is not surprising that many invasions started here or were intended to start here.

La Colonne de la Grande Armée

Invasions of England…

In the course of his Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar invaded Britain twice, in 55 and 54 BC on both occasions from somewhere near Boulogne and almost a hundred years later the emperor Claudius used this town as his base for the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43 in search of tin.  William the Conqueror set off from just a few miles south of here in 1066 in search of the English throne and the French invaded twice during the middle ages in search of causing mischief, first in 1215 as part of the Baron’s War against King John and then 1326 by Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, neither of which enterprise was especially successful.  In 1701 with the the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession  French support for the Jacobites led in 1708 to James Stuart, the Old Pretender, sailing from Dunkirk with six-thousand French troops but this didn’t work out as planned either.

Napoleon’s invasion plans…

Napoleon Bonaparte should have taken note of all these failures but from 1803 to 1805 a new army of two hundred thousand men, known as the Armée des côtes de l’Océan (Army of the Ocean Coasts) or the Armée de l’Angleterre (Army of England), was gathered and trained at camps at Boulogne, Bruges and Monreuil (probably still near the sea at that time).  A large flotilla of invasion barges was built in the Channel ports along the coasts of France and the Netherlands from Etaples to Flushing and gathered together at Boulogne in anticipation of the invasion of the ‘Nation of Shopkeepers’.

Napoleon also seriously considered using a fleet of troop-carrying balloons as part of his proposed invasion force and appointed Marie Madeline Sophie Blanchard as an air service chief, though she advised that the proposed aerial invasion would fail because of the unfavourable winds.

Interestingly these invasion preparations were financed by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, whereby France ceded her huge North American territories to the United States in return for a payment of sixty million French francs ($11,250,000) and the entire amount was then squandered on the projected invasion. Ironically, the United States had partly funded the purchase by means of a loan from Baring Brothers – an English bank!

When it became obvious to Napoleon that the planned invasion was unlikely to succeed he eventually dismantled his army and sent it east instead to take part in the Austrian, Prussian and eventually the catastrophic Russian campaign of 1812.

Lessons from History…

But people do not learn the lessons of history!  I studied history at University and many people scoffed and said that this was a waste of time but history I find always comes in useful and it is important not to ignore it because if one thing is true then it is that – ‘what goes around, comes around’ and one hundred and fifty years later Adolf Hitler tried it again in operation Sea Lion and again it failed and again he sent his troops off to Russia to a similar spectacular defeat.

And so we move on and after walking through the gardens of the monument so did we, on towards our objective of Wimereux.

La Colonne de la Grande Armée Boulogne France