If you are coming from visiting Soissons or the Mangin Memorial in the Forest of Retz you will see opposite the forest the D2 Road towards Longpont.Mangin's Observatory
Two kilometres along this road you will come to an impressive monument commemorating Captain Joost van Vollenhoven of the Régiment d'infanterie coloniale du Maroc (RICM)
This famous regiment was part of the Moroccan Division spearhead of Mangin's attack on 18 July 1918 and van Vollenhoven a former Governor of French West Africa was killed in the nearby village of Parcy on the 19th.
The monument shows the Captain leading his men for the last time, as well as scenes from his previous service in the colonies of Africa and Indochina. Citations to both the Regiment and van Vollenhoven adorn the sides of the monument. Like some of the other monuments in the area it was badly damaged by the German occupiers during the 2nd World War and restored in 1954.
Continuing on to the centre of the village you will find the ruins of the former Cistercian Abbey. Already partially in ruinis before the war it is the only building within the village which was not reconstructed after the war.
If you can find the time to take a meal in the Hotel de l'Abbaye definitely do so, but allow plenty of time. My friend Alain invited me here for lunch one Sunday and I am sure we were eating for three hours!
An interesting man, van Vollenhoven as his name would suggest was Dutch by birth. His parents had commercial interests in Algeria and this is where he grew up, eventually taking French citizenship in 1899 at the age of 22. He joined the French Foreign Office I supose we would call it and was soon rising up through the ranks.
By 1912 he was in Indochina as Governor for the Colonies. At the outbreak of war he was promoted again to Goveror General in Hanoi. This, however, did not sit well with van Vollenhoven who had an enormous desire to return to Europe and fight for his adopted country.
In April 1915 he got his chance, having been relieved of his Civil duties and taking a position of Sous Lieutenant in the RICM.
After being wounded numerous times and having received numerous citations for valour, he was asked in May 1917 to return to his Civil duties and take up a post as Govenor General of French West Africa - this at the age of 40.
His period in Africa didn't last very long though, for by the end of the year he was engaged in a major disagreement with the French Government over the recruitment of African soldiers. He quit his post and rejoined his old regiment, this time as a Captain.
Launching their attack from the Forest of Retz on the morning of 18 July 1918 the RICM had taken Longpont within 45 minutes of the commencement at 04:35 hours. Two hours later having secured the village the Regiment had advanced a further 4 kilometres and seized Mont Rambœf. By midday on 19 July Parcy had fallen - their objective achieved the regiment secured their line that evening.
It was during this final assault on Parcy that van Vollenhoven was fatally wounded leading his men into the attack at Parcy (Where you will find a monument to the RICM marking their furthest point of advance on 19 July 1918).
Over three days of fighting the regiment captured 825 prisoners, 24 pieces of artillery and 120 machineguns. Their own losses however were considerable - in advancing seven kilometres the RICM lost 754 men killed and wounded. Both the regiment and Captain van Vollenhoven received further citations for their achievements during the battle, and it is these that are inscribed on his monument.
On 22 July 1918 the French 38th Division (Of which the RICM were a part) was relieved by the British 34th Division.The RICM on the Chemin des Dames 1917