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Visting Saint-Martin-Rivière, Aisne, France: the peace of centuries disturbed only by war

Updated on February 24, 2016
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Saint-Martin Church
Saint-Martin Church | Source
Saint-Martin-Riviere Town Hall
Saint-Martin-Riviere Town Hall | Source
Major-General Edward Mann Lewis
Major-General Edward Mann Lewis | Source
Source of the Selle
Source of the Selle | Source

Peering into the tumultuous past

This is an old and small village in the French department of Aisne. The parish church at Saint-Martin-Rivière has some ancient elements. The choir dates from the 15th century; the nave was built in the 17th century (1).

The very appearance of this old building gives the strong, subjective impression that things have hardly changed since the Middle Ages. The pointed arches at the windows show evidence of Gothic influence.

In contrast to the Gothic arching at the parish church building, the Town Hall and adjoining buildings evidence rounded, Syrian and elliptical arching.

Life in the village has a strong degree of continuity. Even today, the mayor of Saint-Martin-Rivière might well be re-elected continuously for decades.

The population of the village in 2013 was 133. (Contrast this with its population in the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s, when it consistently remained over 1100.)

So to what does the word 'Rivière' refer, in the commune's name? It refers to the Selle River, which runs through the village, having risen in the neighbouring village of Molain (I have supplied, right, a photo of the Selle at Molain).

Here are introduced recollections of cataclysmic events in the early 20th century. The name of the river recalls the Battle of the Selle, October 17-26, 1918, which was part of the Hundred Days' Offensive, leading to the Armistice on November 11, 1918. Over these months, the Imperial German General Ludendorff emerged a broken, disillusioned man, who went into exile, at the end of World War One, while British Generals Horne, Byng (2) and Rawlinson emerged with much credit. In the Battle of the Selle, the US. 30th Infantry Division, serving under British command, led by American Major-General Edward Mann Lewis, captured Saint-Martin-Rivière on October 17, 1918.

World War Two, though cataclysmic in its broader scheme of things also, did not affect Saint-Martin-Rivière to quite the same military extent as did World War One. When I stayed in the village, however, I did meet a gentleman who had been active in the French Resistance in World War Two.

A dependency of Saint-Martin-Rivière is the hamlet of Arbre de Guise, recalling the name of the commune's cantonal town in Aisne department, and of French Dukes identified historically with Counter-Reformation forces in the 16th and 17th centuries. Saint-Martin Rivière lies within the arrondissement of Vervins.

February 24, 2016


(1) Bibliothèque historique, monumentale, ecclésiastique et littéraire de la Picardie et de l'Artois, publ. par P. Roger, avec la colloboration de M. le comte d'Allonville , Amiens, 1844, p. 347.

(2) Later Viscount Byng of Vimy; served 1921-1926 as Governor-General of Canada, who famously had a disagreement with Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1926 during what became known as the 'King-Byng Thing'; however, Viscount Byng's is mainly recalled as victor of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, France, in 1917, together with General Sir Arthur Currie.

Map location of Vervins 'arrondissement'.
Map location of Vervins 'arrondissement'. | Source

Also worth seeing

In Le Cateau-Cambrésis (distance: 7.6 kilometres) — also in the Selle Valley (see above) — two magnificent belfries crown the Town Hall and the Collegiate church of Saint-Martin respectively; the Matisse museum is housed in the Fénélon Palace.

Roisin, Belgium (distance: 39 kilometres) has a château and a monument to poet Emile Verhaeren.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Saint-Martin-Rivière: 153 kilometres). Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Saint-Martin-Rivière (distance: 131.6 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada


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