Although best known for his lack of response to the German aggression, which eventually led to France being invaded, here is an earlier story taken from the War illustrated.
Gamelin was born in Paris in 1872, shortly after the France of the Second Empire had crashed in bloody ruin at Sedan. It is said that, as a child, he played with toy soldier in his nursery, and today, when he attends a meeting of the Supreme War Council, he sometimes glances across the road at the house in which he was born.
The blood of soldiers flows in his veins although in his early days he wanted to be a painter of watercolours. From the military academy at St Syr, the French Sandhurst, he went to the Chasseurs, and after a term of service in Africa became military secretary to joffre.
At the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, he held a position on the Operations Branch of Joffre’s staff. What happened may be told in the words of “Pertinax”, the distinguished French journalist, writing in the columns of the “Daily Telegraph”.
On the evening of August 25th, there was a discussion regarding the proper course to adopt in order to stop the movement of the German army, then pointing towards the Valley of Oise and Paris, and threatening to outflank the French line on their left.
General Berthelot, Deputy Chief of the General Staff, declared himself favourable of a counter attack directed towards the North-West and aimed at the inner (left) front of the enemy right-wing, which was opposite the British divisions. As against this, Gamelin, speaking for the Operations Branch, maintained that the blow should be delivered externally, and the invader taken in the rear by an army gathered in the region of Paris and advancing north-eastwards. Joffre decided in favour of Gamelin, who drew up Order No. 2 – the seed of the Victory of Marne.
The Operation, however, was not to be put into action before the French armies had retreated behind the Seine. On the morning of September 4th, when the Operation Branch met, Gamelin examined the map on which the positions of the various Corps were laid out, and observed that they “capped” the German effectives – in other words, that a sort of circle seems to be sketched automatically round them. The favourable opportunity offered itself; it was worth seizing without delay. The attack must be made at once, and the proposed recovery along the Seine put aside. Such is the story of the Order No 6 of September 4th, the order which led to victory – again the work of Gamelin’s pen.
In the Spring of 1918, he decided to leave the French GHQ for the field, and he was given command of a Brigade of Light Infantry (Chasseurs) in Alsace, and later of the 9th Division. At the time of the great March offensive of 1918 Gamelin’s single division held a front – if front it may be called – which gradually spread over eleven miles. In those terrible days of defeat and retreat, he was one of the last to yield ground.
After the war he had a command in Syria, and there again he achieved victory for France at a most critical moment when with 5,000 men he annihilated a fanatical mob of 100,000 Druses.
Small of stature, with pink cheeks, reddish hair, steel-blue eyes and a crisp white moustache, he is a typical French soldier. He is always meticulously turned out, with his many ribbons displayed and medals in his buttonhole. His favourite phrase is reported to be, “I am a Philosopher.” As Joffre said after the battle of Marne, in which Gamelin had, as we have seen, played so valuable a part: “If this be philosophy, it is time that all generals were philosophers.”