On October 5, 1915, French troops landed in Salonika aiming to open a new front in the Great War and rescue their Serbian allies. A century later, few remember the close friendship that once bound the two nations together, reports FRANCE 24.
Facing Belgrade’s iconic fortress, on the confluence of the Danube and the River Sava, an imposing monument bears witness to this friendship. The statue of a defiant female figure, with stern gaze and clenched fists, is reminiscent of France’s national symbol Marianne. Beneath it lie the words, “Let us love France as she loved us”.
The Monument of Gratitude to France was inaugurated in the 1930s in Belgrade, then the capital of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, generally referred to as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It was designed as a tribute to France for its help during World War I.
“It is a very important place for Serbians, both historically and symbolically,” says historian Stanislav Stretenovic, of the Belgrade-based Institute of Contemporary History. “As far as I know, it is the world’s only monument dedicated to a foreign country, and not just a leader or a people.”
The bond between France and the young Serbian nation was one of the defining characteristics of World War I. It is also one of the least known chapters in the history of the war.
On October 5, 1915, French and British troops landed in the Greek port of Salonika, today’s Thessaloniki, hoping to open a new front after the failure of the Gallipoli campaign. The plan was to help the Serbian army, which, as a result of the complex web of European alliances, had sided with the French, British and Russians against Germany and Austria-Hungary.
But ties between France and Serbia ran deeper.