Picture Postcards from the Great War

The story behind a Great War postcard - Tony Allen

(5) The leaning virgin of Albert

During the Great War, Albert, a small town (pop.7, 000) in the Province of Picardy found itself involved in some of the fiercest action on the Western Front. In the town stood an impressive Romanesque Basilica crowned with a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary holding up her young son. The statue became the centre of several myths and legends.

ww1 postrcard The leaning virgin of Albert

On the above card, depicting a snow covered Albert in the winter of 1916, the statue of the virgin can be seen hanging precariously from the basilica...Clearly visible to the Allied soldiers who passed below it and presumably to the Germans positioned some distance away, superstitions about "The Leaning Virgin of Albert" sprung up on both the German and Allied sides.

Early in the war, German artillery shelled the Basilica to stop French artillery spotters from using it, but only managed to dislodge the statue. By the time the battle of the Somme ended in the autumn of 1916, the town had been almost reduced to rubble and the statue hung at an angle just below the perpendicular.

The British and French believed the day the tower was brought down, the war would end. The Germans thought that whoever brought the statue down would lose the war, which suited the British, as the tower proved a good vantage point from which to view the enemy positions.

During the German offensive of 1918, the British gave up Albert to the Germans and British heavy guns eventually brought the dome and statue crashing to the ground. After the war, builders constructed a replica basilica based on the original design but they never found the gilded virgin and child statue. 

During the war, French publisher's produced many postcards, which illustrated the ‘Leaning Virgin and Child’ statue at Albert - before it was destroyed in 1918.



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