French village of Saint-Parize-le-Châtel commemorates American presence in World War I
By André Garcia (Mayor of Saint- Parize-le-Châtel, France), Georges Martinat (Président de Hérédit-Nièvre—Historical Association of Saint-Parize
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site
(Translated from French to English by Jenifer Burckett-Picker, daughter of WWI veteran, author of Dad and Dunk in the Great War, and visitor to commemorative celebrations at Mars-sur-Allier site in 2017. The information below was sent to Burckett-Picker by Andre Garcia, George Martinat, and Gianni Belli of Saint-Parize-le-Châtel— respectively the mayor, the head of the historical society, and the designer of historic route around the former World War I U.S. Hospital of Mars-sur-Allier. It tells of how citizens from the small French village of Saint-Parize-le-Châtel (just south of the city of Nevers—former site of the Service of Supplies of the American Expeditionary Forces in WWI) still commemorate the American presence in their area where the huge Mars-sur-Allier Hospital Camp was located 1917-1919.)
We are interested in adding to the World War 1 Commission’s historic records the description of the historic commemorations and historic route with informational plaques at the site of the former WWI U.S. Hospital at Mars-sur-Allier that have taken place in France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. (Note that Mars-sur-Allier and Saint-Parize-le-Châtel are about 10 miles south of the French city of Nevers, which is in central France and was about midway between the Atlantic ports and the Western Front in the area of Verdun during WWI. Nevers was designated as a Service of Supplies area during WWI and as such had two very large hospitals built there – one just south of Nevers (Mars–sur-Allier) and one just north.
For more than 20 years, we have commemorated along with the village of Saint-Parize-le-Châtel, the Armistice of the 11th of November, 1918. Our village is the only one in the Nièvre Department (county) that possesses two monuments: one French and one American, that honor the sacrifice of these (American) men and women who were killed during the First World War.
Saint-Parize-le-Châtel is in the Nièvre Department (county), known today for its world-renowned F1 sports car track of Nevers/Magny-cours. However, at this same place in World War 1, between 1917-1919, there was a huge American camp hospital, considered today as one of the largest in the theater of European operations—the Mars-sur-Allier Hospital Center, APO 780 – established on over 700 acres.
Many medical professionals, from the Red Cross, and from U.S. hospitals worked there. Every November 11th we commemorate the Armistice with the inhabitants, officials and school children from our village.
In 2001, 2008, 2014, but especially in 2017 to 2019 we have commemorated the centenary of the American presence in the Nièvre region. More than 70,000 Americans were in the Nièvre region during WWI – a huge group of planners and soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force.
Among the remains of the WWI American presence in Saint-Parize, there stands a remarkable water tower which still shows the shields of the United States, visible on one of its pillars. In 2016 this water tower was entered on the list of “Historic Monuments” by the Regional Office of Cultural Affairs of Bourgogne Franche-Comté. Another monument, financed in 1924 through a voluntary collection of funds, carries the words: “To the Americans who died for France, Rights, and Liberty 1916-1918”. It was recently taken from its place in the village cemetery and placed at the foot of the water tower. Together, these two monuments, form today the “Memorial of the American presence in the Nièvre”, inaugurated by the county commissioners on June 25, 2017 in the presence of local officials – civil, political, and military – as well as Madame Katie Regen, representative of the American Embassy, and members of American families from the U.S. who had connections to the area. Today a large informational poster stands at the entrance to the Memorial.
Last May 19th (2019) many individuals – officials, townspeople, and school children – commemorated the centenary of the closing of the camp hospital. But today, we can discover the history of this “Hospital Center” by following a 7-mile historical trail with 26 plaques, each flying an American flag, which explain the hospital’s history. This historical trail has been financed by our village.
As you can see, Saint-Parize-le-Châtel has not forgotten this page of history that we have shared with many American families, some of whom have returned here many times. The friendship and historic ties between our nations are linked to the image of our common history, since the American War of Independence at the end of the 18th century.
To permanently remember the 438 who died at the Mars-sur-Allier American Hospital Center, dead on French soil, we hope that that the United States will add a commemorative plaque to join our two others and thus complete the Memorial. To this end, we are still researching the names of these 438 men and women who died on our territory: soldiers and medical employees of this huge hospital center.
Since 2014, archeologists along with student helpers have been working on a project about the hospital site with the goal of having it remembered for future generations. As we do each year, next November 11th we will commemorate the armistice of this tragic time in history. These actions, supported by the village officials and by the local inhabitants, show the interest given to this site during a troubled time in our area. We would be thrilled if the United States of America would be associated with our efforts for the “Memorial of the American Presence in the Nièvre” by placing a commemorative plaque at our Memorial.
Translator's Note: Lucy DeVries Duffy was key in making contact with the village of St Parize many years ago because her dad was a medic at the hospital there in WWI and her mother was a young village girl who gave him French lessons. They had a long distance romance for several years after the war until they finally got married and she came to the US. You can read their story here.