Albert | Richard Cartwright

Rich In History

The town of Albert was a key location in The Battle of the Somme, and was situated three miles from the front lines.

The statue of Mary and the infant Jesus - designed by sculptor Albert Roze and known as the "Golden Virgin" or the "Golden Madonna" - on top of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières was hit by a shell on January 15, 1915, and slumped to a near-horizontal position, where however it remained until further shelling in 1918 destroyed the tower. The Germans said that whoever made the statue fall would lose the war, and a number of legends surrounding the "Leaning Virgin" developed among German, French, and British soldiers. The Leaning Virgin became an especially familiar image to the thousands of British soldiers who fought at the Battle of the Somme (1916), many of whom passed through Albert.

The German army recaptured the town in March 1918 during the Spring Offensive. In order to prevent the Germans from using the church tower as an observation post the British directed their bombardment against the basilica. The statue fell in April 1918 and was never recovered.

In August 1918 the Germans were again forced to retreat, and the British reoccupied Albert until the end of the war.

Albert was completely reconstructed after the war, including widening and re-orienting the town's main streets. The Basilica, however, was faithfully rebuilt according to its original design by Eduoard Duthoit, the son of the architect who had overseen its construction in 1885-95. The present statue is an exact replica of Roze's original design.

The mural was painted by Albert Mac Carlton, and was inaugurated on 29 June 1996.  It shows the damaged Golden Madonna statue.

The central hall of the railway station has a plane suspended from the ceiling. It is a Potez 36/14, registration F-PHZN, built in 1957. This model was a two-seat plane with folding wings to make it easier to store or tow behind a vehicle.

Today Albert has an airport, usually used for domestic short-range flights and also for transporting the nose sections of the Airbus which is built in a factory complex adjacent to the airfield. The parts of the airbus are transported to the main assembly plant in Toulouse, France in a modified Airbus - the Beluga which is designed for the transportation of large items. The present fleet of five Beluga are to be gradually replaced with the larger Beluga-XL model.

The Musée Somme 1916 is dedicated to the Battle of the Somme in 1916.  The entrance is alongside the Basilica, and the museum itself is housed in the tunnels that run under the streets of Albert.