In this article, HelloMonaco will share with you some history pages about the Prince of Monaco Louis II and his military service before he ascended to the throne of the Principality.
Prince Louis II and the great war are both part of an exhibition in Jonchery-sur-Vesle, commemorating the centenary of the battle of Chemin des Dames. Through historical documents, photographs and letters, the story of Prince Louis II and his military career can be pieced together. He was a soldier during WWI and, as a courier, was able to experience every tier of the war from strategic meetings to the dangerous front lines.
The battle of Chemin des Dames was not a grand victory, there was a great loss of human life, but it was the crucial moment when the allied troops, after Verdun in 1916, repositioned themselves against the German troops and the central empires. The Chemin des Dames was a zone which was disputed over for 4 years for strategic and tactical reasons: it was a ridge line, a high point which permitted control over access to the Parisian basin. Moreover, it was the first time that tanks were used in a battle field, and after a few months the tanks helped the troops advance some tens, then some hundreds of metres.
It was during this battle that Prince Louis II, the hereditary Prince of Monaco at the time, obtained the highest citation in the army corps, they commemorated his actions as a liaison officer in April 1917, in the same location as the beginning of the battle.
Prince Louis had a military career, with official training. He went to St. Cyr, the highest French military school, then did his applied training at the Ecole de Saumur, the cavalry school. He was a soldier in North Africa until 1899, in the 2nd and 3rd regiments, and he quit the army in 1899 for many reasons. The French army was, at the time, divided because of the Dreyfus affair. Prince Albert I, Prince Louis’ father, was an adamant Dreyfusard, which may have created some problems for his son’s career. Prince Louis II also had to pursue his apprenticeship as future Sovereign of Monaco.
In 1914, when the First World War began, nothing obliged him to take up service after quitting the military for 15 years, but it was his personal will. He wrote about it in a beautiful letter to his father, Prince Albert I, a few days after the war was declared. He said that he must engage in the ranks of the army of a nation he considers his second Patrie, France, and that he must, in some way, continue in the footsteps of Prince Albert I, who served during the war of 1870 in the French marine.
Although he was a Prince, Louis was also a real soldier, like all the other soldiers. He began WWI as a courrier, but in autumn 1914, he quickly became an officer liaison. According to other soldiers, he was humorous, kind and always put others before him. He didn’t want people to know his status as Hereditary Prince.
Prince Louis II had a camera and took many photographs to keep a record of the war. The photos vary from carefully positioned soldiers in uniform, standing proud for the camera, to other images taken in the trenches, during the heat of a battle. As a courier travelling from the commanders to relay messages to the front lines, he was able to experience every angle of the war, something other soldiers couldn’t perceive.
From WWI until the death of his father, Louis II continued serving in the military and became a Lieutenant Colonel. After his father died in 1922, he left the military and ascended to the throne as Louis II, Prince of Monaco. But the military never forgot his service and he was promoted to General of the Division in 1930.