Tag Archives: World War I

Reims and the Chemin des Dames

In my last post, you saw the cultural and natural surroundings of Reims. Today, I’ll show the city from a completely different point of view: that of World War I.

According to Wikipedia,

In France, the Chemin des Dames (literally, the “ladies’ path”) is part of the D18 and runs east and west in the département of Aisne, between in the west, the Route Nationale 2, (Laon to Soissons) and in the east, the D1044 at Corbeny. It is some thirty kilometres long and runs along a ridge between the valleys of the rivers Aisne and Ailette. It acquired the name in the 18th century, as it was the route taken by the two daughters of Louis XV, Adélaïde and Victoire, who were known as Ladies of France. At the time, it was scarcely a carriage road, but it was the most direct route between Paris and the Château de Boves, near Vauclair, on the far side of the Ailette. The château belonged to Françoise de Châlus, former mistress of Louis XV, Countess of Narbonne-Lara and former lady of honour to Adélaïde, whom the two ladies visited frequently. To make the way easier, the count had the road surfaced, and it gained its new name. The ridge’s strategic importance first became evident in 1814 when Napoleon‘s young recruits beat an army of Prussians and Russians at the Battle of Craonne.

During World War I, three important battles took place in this area: the First, Second and Third Battle of the Aisne. This is what Ingrid and I found along the Chemin des Dames.

Bligny – Chambrecy Italian Cemetery

70% of the Italian soldiers who died in France during World War I are buried here. Or in other words, more than 3.400 graves… On the other side of the road, you can visit the Field of Remembrance.

The Courville Wash-House Monument

This small building commemorates a young American aviator, shot out of the sky above the village of Courville.

American Memorial Bridge of Fismes

This bridge was blown up twice by the Germans, the first time in May 1918 and the second time in World War II. This memorial is in memory of the Americans who died here during World War I.

Monument to the French Trench Mortars

I think we associate World War I especially with the brutal fights in the trenches. This monument pays tribute to 12.000 French soldiers who died in the trenches all over Europe. As you can see, the memorial has an odd shape; it resembles a mortar bomb.

Cerny-en-Laonnois Memorial Chapel

This is a beautiful chapel that commemorates soldiers of different nationalities who died in this region. I think the pictures say it all…

The Basque Memorial

A monument for the 36th Infantry Division, whose soldiers came mainly from Southwest France. Note that the statue at the base of the memorial depicts a person in civilian clothes, rather than in a uniform.

Berry-au-Bac Tank Memorial

This was quite an impressive memorial; just a shame that it is located near a very busy intersection.

We put the most impressive places around Reims in a video for you.

The Roger Raveel Walk – The French Military Cemetery

Most of the military cemeteries I have visited before are usually located outside a village or a town. This French Military Cemetery is situated in the heart of Machelen-aan-de-Leie. It is almost completely surrounded by houses.

Although Machelen-aan-de-Leie is quite small, it took the Germans 12 days to conquer it during World War I. 600 French soldiers lost their lives and were buried here. Since in the surrounding municipalities there were many French casualties as well, they were buried here too. In total, 1325 people have found their last resting place here.

To the right of the French Military Cemetery you can see the local school. It was built in 1865 and in the sixties Roger Raveel used to have a studio here, in the attic. His own attic had actually become too small and in the new one he could concentrate on making bigger artworks.

The Roger Raveel Walk – The Monument and The Tree

Before we came to Machelen-aan-de-Leie, I had never heard about the place. And when you arrive there, it is hard to imagine that such a small village has a lot to offer when it comes to history, culture and nature.

One of the first interesting stops on the Roger Raveel Walk is situated in the Dorpsstraat.

In the middle of the street you can see a small square with a monument and a tree. The monument was erected in 1919 to commemorate the victims who had died in World War I and the tree, which stands for freedom, was planted then as well. After World War II the names of the victims of that war were added on the monument.

The sculpture refers to Hercules who frees himself from his shackles, just like Belgium did after two World Wars. And just like Hercules looks forward to a better future, Belgium did that too after two terrible wars.

Creepy Travels – Ornes

We continued to Ornes.

This was actually one of the biggest villages that was destroyed during the Battle of Verdun. The history of Ornes goes back to the 11th century and in the 19th century it had more than 1300 inhabitants. A the moment that World War I started about 700 people lived here. One of the main sources of income had been textile art, but when the war broke out most people had turned to agriculture.

Nowadays only 8 people live in the village. The ruins of the church are a witness of the destruction caused by the awful war.

 

Creepy Travels – Bezonvaux

The next “village détruit” was Bezonvaux.

Historical photo of Bezonvaux
Historical photo of Bezonvaux (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 150 people lived here at the time of the Battle of Verdun; none of them survived. The village was simply completely destroyed; all that is left now are some objects and a lot of craters, which are overgrown with trees and grass. Historians have succeeded though in recreating a couple of the main streets of the village. The arrows with the names of the people who used to live there and the ruins and objects make history almost come alive.

The picture that you see next to this text is actually one of the very few pictures that exist of this village before the Battle of Verdun.

Creepy Travels – Vaux-devant-Damloup

We quickly found village number 3, Vaux-devant-Damloup.

The difference with the former two villages is that this one was rebuilt after World War I. The number of inhabitants is quite low though: only about 70 people live here. At the edge of the village there is a small monument that refers to the Battle of Verdun that meant the end of the original village.

 

Last Trip of 2012 – La Tranchée des Baïonnettes

Our next stop was at this (in)famous monument.

Is it reality? Or a legend? Or maybe a mix of both? I found some information on this website:

History intermingles with legend concerning the Tranchée des Baionnettes. On the 12th of June 1916, this entrenched position was a part of the terrain forming a salient west of Fort Douaumont which the Germans wanted to take before launching their main offensive on the 23rd.

Two battalions of the 137th Infantry Regiment, deployed at the front since the 10th of June, were the object of appalling shelling and very soon found themselves cut off. The regiment’s third company had lost 94 of its 164 men by the night of the 11th. The remainder had been placed in row of exposed trenches directly observable by German artillery spotters. The artillery fire on the position increased in the early morning hours and the remainder of 137th Regiment was annihilated almost to a man. Author Alistair Horne tells what subsequently transpired.

It was not until after the war that French teams exploring the battlefield provided a clue as to the fate of 3 Company. The trench it had occupied was discovered completely filled in, but from a part of it at regular intervals protruded rifles, with bayonets still fixed to their twisted and rusty muzzles, On excavation, a corpse was found beneath each rifle. From that plus the testimony of survivors from nearby units, it was deduced that 3 Company had placed its rifles on the parapet ready to repel any attack and — rather than abandon their trench — had been buried alive to a man there by the German bombardment. When the story of the Tranchée des Baionnettes was told it caught the world’s imagination.

Quite a gruesome story… There are lots of arguments for and against it, but whatever it may be – reality or legend -, one thing cannot be denied: some men died here.