Noyon in the spotlight

“And yet, for a year now, the Germans have been in Noyon." This famous phrase was written by Clémenceau on 25 August 1915, in an article denouncing the Viviani government, as a political weapon meant to incite military action. The citation would become emblematic and stir all of France, and Clémenceau would adopt it as a leitmotiv: “The Germans are in Noyon, and we talk politics… misery of miseries…”. The small town became a symbol.

In a letter to a friend, Marcel Proust would echo the sentiment: "It isn't easy being cheerful, or even desiring to be, so long as the Germans 'are in Noyon' and elsewhere". For this reason, the eventual German withdrawal and the liberation of Noyon in 1917 were later underlined by numerous official visits by France’s most important political figures and dignitaries, receiving significant media attention. The contrast is terrible between these happy, splendid images full of hope, and the desolation of this martyred town; indeed, in 1918, Clémenceau would say, “The vision of Noyon is a vision of terror, and this terror is so far beyond us that it no longer touches us.”

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