Taken from the French side, this picture shows the violence of fighting in Champagne. Bloodied bodies lie on the ground while a nurse comforts an injured soldier, giving him a drink. The soldiers on horseback point to Reims Cathedral, on fire in the background. This is World War One in its infancy: the French uniforms have red trousers, which were replaced with ‘horizon blue’ (blue-grey) in 1915. It also shows the role of horses at a time before the wide use of engines.
Reims Cathedral, a major Gothic masterpiece where the kings of France were consecrated, was severely damaged in 1914. The city and its cathedral were bombed on 4 September 1914, shortly before the arrival of German troops. On 13 September the French recaptured the city and German bombing resumed. On 19 September, a shell fell on the cathedral’s north tower. A fire broke out and engulfed the entire structure, while the bombing continued. Restoration work was started in 1919 and the cathedral reopened in 1938. Work inside has continued ever since.