Monday, 11 April 2016

Postcards from France

I'm just home from a 2 day trip to France which packed in a lot of WW1 viewing. The main reason was to visit Verdun during the centenary and I spent most time there. On the way down I stopped at the Aisne and the Chemin des Dames, and on the way back at Vimy Ridge and Notre Dame de Lorette.
I wanted also to insert a video, showing a tour of the destroyed village of Haumont, obliterated during the opening German assault on Verdun. My main reason for trying it was to capture the birdsong that gives these places such an ethereal quality, but the technology defeated me. Trust me, the birdsong was wondrous.

Battle of the Aisne 1914

 (See Blogs Battle of the Aisne 1 and 2, 27/12/14 and 30/12/14)
Visited two of the BEF's crossing points in the pursuit that followed the Marne victory, Conde and Vailly.  Advances came to a halt against new German defensive positions on the high ground that rises steeply from the north bank of the Aisne to the plain along which runs the famous Chemin des Dames.
The Aisne in full and rapid flow.
I saw a kingfisher, made my morning
Lovely scenery, wonderful views from the top of the escarpment. A beautiful military cemetery is at Vailly sur-Aisne with British and Commonwealth graves numbering nearly 400 and a similar number of French graves.
The French half of the Vailly cemetery with the ridge in the background.
Panoramic view of the plain north of the Aisne, taken from Chemin des Dames

Verdun 1916

This was my fourth visit to Verdun, and still have much to see. I visited all parts of the initial line on 21/2/16., and came upon six of the nine Villages Detruit - 'Mort pour la France' - Haumont, Ornes, Louvemont, Douaumont, Cumieres and Vaux.
The town on the Meuse is both charming and foreboding. The sense of history is pervasive.

Avocourt National Cemetery with Avocourt Wood beyond
In a 12 miles crescent to the north of the town lies the front line, as was on 21st February 1916 when the Germans launched their assault. From Avocourt in the west to Damloups in the east the scars remain amid beautiful rural settings.

Haumont in the Bois
de Haumont
Louvremont memorial on
Cote de Poivre
Vaux devant Damloup

At the eastern end of the salient the ground slopes down steeply from Fort Vaux, to the village itself a short distance for the next Village of Damloup.
In the area shown enormous German losses occurred in their attempts to take Fort Vaux. The single route to the Fort became completely blocked with corpses

Vimy Ridge and Notre Dame de Lorette

The imposing Canadian memorial
The Douai plain from Vimy Ridge.
The slag heaps of Loos are prominent
The Canadians' capture of Vimy Ridge in 1917 followed several unsuccessful attempts by French troops through 1914 and 1915. It's easy to see why it was such important high ground, and the views out over the Douai plain overlook other scenes of carnage including Loos, Aubers Ridge and Lens.

The Necropole de Notre Dame de Lorette
Within view to the north west is another famous hill, now the site of national and international memorials, Notre Dame de Lorette. The struggles for possession of that equally impressive high ground produced many thousands of casualties, the majority of them French. Another very moving visit.

The new NDdeL Memorial

Since I was last there, a new monument has been opened. It reminds me of the Vietnam memorial in Washington. It lists, in alphabetical order, without rank, the names of all troops from both sides killed in the Nord and Pas de Calais of France 1914-18. Astounding  - 580,000 names.
View through the memorial window on NDdeL. The white speck on the horizon is
the Vimy Ridge memorial. The value of high ground.

No comments:

Post a Comment