Ferdinand Foch

1851-1929
Marshal Foch. Copyright : SHD

Foch was born in Tarbes on 1851 in the bosom of a middle-class, pious family. Hard working, brilliant high school pupil he graduates in the Arts/Science Bachelor. Sent to Metz in 1869 to prepare the entrance to the Ecole Polytechnque, he will live the Prussian occupation in Lorraine. At the Polytechnique he chooses the military career. Captain at the age of 26 and friend of Gustave Doré, he will get married in 1883. A pupil in 1885 at the School of war, he will teach at this same school later, from 1895 to 1901, before becoming commander in 1908. Already two works gathered the his strategic conceptions together.

August 1914 : The war breaks out.

General since 1907, Foch commanded at that time the 20th corps at Nancy. On August 29th he will lead the 9th army, which distinguished itself during the "Marais de Saint-Gond" battle. This was an essential operation during the 1st Marne battle. Later he will coordinate the allied armies of North, who will stop the German during their "running to the sea" , then he will lead the operations of Artois in 1915 and those of Somme in 1916. But the results of these operations where judged insufficient. In addition to that, intern rivalries caused a temporary disfavour of the General. In 1917 the military situation of the allies is critical : failure of General Nevelle on the "Chemin de Dames", mutinies, collapse of the Russian empire, Italian defeat... Foch will be recalled chief of the general staff of the Army. Appointed generalissimo from the allied troops he will block the German offensive on April 1918 and launches the decisive counter attack on July 18th. On November 11th he feels that his duty is accomplished. Nevertheless he also thinks of the million dead soldiers -among them also his son and his son-in-law- and knows that also peace must be won. "I do not make war for the war. If I obtain through the armistice the conditions that we want to dictate to Germany, I will be satisfied. Once the objective achieved, nothing has the right to spread one more drop." (Memoirs of General Foch vol. II p. 285). He will be honoured many times : he will become Marshall of France, of Great-Britain and Poland, academic, holder of 37 French and foreign medals, president of the supreme Council for war. Counsellor during the conference opened on January 18th 1919, he will not succeed to assert his peace conception, requiring the Rhine as German border rather then basing it to hypothetical promises.

Disappointed by the clauses of the treaty, he wants to divulgate his opinion by presenting himself to the presidential elections of 1920. Because of his failure he will give up the policy. He travels, writes his memoirs, and never stops to defend his convictions : a morally strong and armed nation is necessary to avoid the beginning of another war. The isolation of France, the economic stagnation (which is sapping up), the deliquescence of the peace treaties, obscure his last years of life. On March 20th 1929 he will die leaving the following motto : "beaten will be he who doesn't want to win" The name Foch is related to the victory of 1918 and many municipalities symbolically baptised with a road, a square or a boulevard with this name. Foch is without any doubt one of the historic personalities who are most evoked in the towns of France.