When the Swiss fought the French

April 30, 2019, No comments

On a low green hill beside the country’s busiest motorway stands a lonely memorial. Thousands drive past it every day but I wonder how many know why the truncated pillar is there and what once happened in the fields around it.

There aren’t many war memorials in Switzerland because there haven’t been many wars, at least not in recent history. The last (and only time) Switzerland was invaded was in the spring of 1798 when the French came calling from the west. Swiss resistance didn’t last long and the final stand came when Bernese troops met the French invaders at Grauholz on 5 March.

Barely 1,000 Bernese faced over 18,000 Frenchmen, two cannons against seventeen, an uneven fight however you look at it. The Bernese under General von Erlach resisted for over two hours but it was futile. They retreated back to the city, where the government itself had already surrendered. With the fall of Bern, the Swiss Confederation collapsed and within a few weeks was under French rule, an occupation that would last for 17 years.

Grauholz is a memorial to the Swiss Ancien Regime that died on that battlefield, a Switzerland that was never to be seen again. But the view from the hill today is a very modern one, with Bern’s giant shopping centre beyond the lush fields and rushing cars.

And almost unnoticed by everyone who passes by is this fascinating little slice of history.

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