Visiting Paris earlier in the year I spent half a day in the Musee de l\'Armee in Les Invalides and hardly scratched the surface, even with the vast Napoleonic section closed for major renewal work. I started with what must be must be the largest collection of suits of armour that can be seen anywhere. It became a little wearing, in fact, inspecting this mile-long parade through room after room, but for those with an eye for the evolutionary detail, it\'s all there! The shining steel, much of it so elegant, contrasted intriguingly with the assorted Kevlar of the CRS detachment relaxing in the street outside the nearby cafe we had lunch in.
A gentle public-service union demo was taking place up the road and the boys were hoping for a little practice ahead of the more serious business of protecting the Olympic torch, if any schoolteachers decided to march on Les Invalides. I spent longer in the excellent Department of the Two World Wars (which begins with the Franco-Prussian affair) and then climbed the stairs to the attics. These house an extraordinary collection of relief models of the 100 most significant fortified sites built over two centuries from 1668 on the frontiers and coasts of France. Beautifully made and highly detailed, generally at 1/600 scale, these were used for strategic and tactical instruction and planning. They include many of Vauban\'s finest creations. A side exhibit includes a brilliant sequence of small dioramas showing the several stages of an 18th century siege from initial encirclement through the setting-up and advancement of batteries, approach work and tunnelling, to the mining of a bastion\'s corner and successful assault. All this massive engineering work accomplished by sheer manpower in a matter of weeks!
Vauban\'s heart was entombed on Napoleon\'s orders a short distance away in the great domed church. The Emperor\'s final resting place (occupied since 1840, 19 years after his death), an imposing but unlovely blob of purple porphyry sits centre-stage directly beneath the dome. The memorial sculptures that surround the sarcophagus concentrate on Napoleon\'s immense civil achievements with, as far as I could see, just one passing reference in the inscriptions to the near-continuous warfare he ruled through.
And now the competition - In a side chapel 70 victories are discreetly listed (if I counted right). Just eight are named in a decorative ring round the tomb itself: which ones? The first correct answer out of the hat on October 1 wins a choice of five Napoleonic Series titles.
Click here to enter!