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France > Remembrance tourism in the French Ardennes

Remembrance tourism in the French Ardennes

Monument des 21ème et 22ème Régiments de Chasseurs Tchécoslovques, Vouziers - Chestres. / Monument for the 21st et 22nd Regiments of the Czechoslovakian Chasseurs, Vouziers - Chestres.
© Mickaël Jeanty
Image locale (image propre et limitée à l'article, invisible en médiathèque)

From the defeat of France in Sedan in 1870 to the famous German breakthrough of 1940, the French Ardennes was, by its location, at the heart of Europe's biggest conflicts. Land of passage steeped in history, the French Ardennes was invaded, occupied, bombed, devastated...

The Ardennes is the only French department to have been wholly occupied during the First World War. From 31st August 1914 to the last battle of the Great War on 10th and 11th November in Vrigne-Meuse, the Ardennes suffered the devastating occupation of German troops for 52 months. That is why the French Ardennes still has many places of commemoration and memorial sites related to the First World War.

From the Battle of the Ardennes

At the beginning of August 1914, the German army invaded Belgium, ignoring its neutrality. From 21st to 23rd August, they entered the French Ardennes and engaged in fierce fighting with the French Army around Sedan and Signy-l’Abbaye. There followed a long drawn-out retreat by the French Army’s 4th division, punctuated by fighting that only managed to slow down the opposition. On 28th August, the Germans entered Charleville, where they quickly set up their General HQ and stayed for the rest of the Great War.

To see

Haybes

Les ruines du village d'Haybes, carte postale.

The memorial in the village of Haybes is a sculpture by L. Rauner commemorating both the war dead and the tragic days of August 1914. Haybes was a battered village, bombed and burnt to the ground by the Germans from 24th to 26th August 1914: 600 houses were destroyed and 61 civilians massacred.

Further information: www.valdardennetourisme.com

 

Sedan

Having retreated to Sedan and its surrounding area, the French army was subjected to intensive Germans attacks. On 26th August, German troops crossed the River Meuse in several places (in the towns of Donchery and Iges) and then occupied Sedan. Over 98% of Donchery was destroyed as a result of four days of bombing and gunfire. When enemy soldiers tried to cross the River Meuse over two wooden bridges, they were stopped by French artillery firing from a place called Croix Piot.

In Noyers-Pont-Maugis, La Marfée is another important site where the French fought against the Germans on 27th and 28th August, resulting in thousands of deaths on both sides. The military cemetery, with the graves of nearly 27,000 French and German soldiers killed during the two world wars, includes many graves of soldiers killed in this battle.

The guidebook entitled Remembrance Tours in Sedan and its Surrounding Area and 5 themed tours are available at the Sedan and its Surrounding Area Tourist Office.

Further information: www.tourisme-sedan.fr 

To the fifty-two months of German occupation

Vie quotidienne des Ardennais durant la Grande Guerre, Fumay

Early in 1914, Charleville became the seat of residence of the German Imperial Crown Prince, who first settled in the Corneau Chateau (no longer exists) before moving to the Renaudin Chateau in Bélair in 1916 for fear of French bombings. Kaiser Wilhelm II, German Emperor and King of Prussia, stayed in Charleville many times.

The General HQ and its staff moved into the buildings of the Préfecture, or County Hall, in Mézières. This is where they directed the operations in Verdun in 1916, on the Chemin des Dames in 1917 and over the entire Champagne Region for the duration of the War.

The Ardennes countryside was systematically put to the sword. All able-bodied men, women and children of all ages were conscripted into forced agricultural labour (Commandos) for the benefit of the occupant. Industry was not spared: machinery and raw materials were requisitioned for the war effort (cast iron from church bells and bronze from public monuments).

To see

Renaudin Chateau

On the heights above Charleville, the opulent Renaudin Chateau, the seat of the headquarters of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Crown Prince during the war from 1916 to 1918, is still visible.

Further information: www.charleville-mezieres.org

Vie quotidienne des Ardennais durant la Grande Guerre, Signy-le-PetitExhibition

From 4th July to 28th September 2014, the exhibition entitled ‘Faces of French Ardennes people during the World War I’ will be dedicated to the remembrance of this period: visitors will be able to relate to the French and Germans through their portraits and biographies. Includes everyday life objects and life stories.

Further iformation : www.ardennes.com 

Ayvelles Estate’s Fort and Battery

Fort des Ayvelles

The Ayvelles Estate’s Fort and Battery is the only example of the Séré de Rivières system in the Ardennes and was used by the Germans as a munitions depot during the war, having been evacuated by the French on 25th August 1914. It was liberated in November 1918, but not without having suffered the destruction of its barracks.

Further information: www.ardennes.com

 

Sedan

The town of Sedan, which was in the back area of the front between Reims and Verdun, was transformed into a vast logistics camp by the German army, including many hospitals, ammunition depots, cinemas and brothels. From January 1917 to November 1918, Sedan Castle, the medieval fortress, was used as a prison. The German authorities used it to imprison thousands of French and Belgian civilian resistants condemned to forced labour. Many of them died as a result of this captivity (about 200 survivors in November 1918 out of 5,240). Saint Charles Cemetery in Sedan has a German memorial, a large French graveyard commemorating the three wars and a Jewish graveyard with its memorial.

Further information: www.tourisme-sedan.fr

At the liberation

In the summer and autumn of 1918, Marshal Foch launched offensives that turned out to be decisive and led to the French armies’ victory. Moving along the front from west to east, four Allied armies fought in the Ardennes: the Third Army, the Fifth commanded by General Guillaumat, the Fourth by General Gouraud and the U.S. army commanded by General Pershing.

The offensive from 26th September to 15th October liberated the south of the Ardennes as far as the River Aisne. Augustin Trébuchon, fantassin au 451e RI

The last offensive towards a symbolic cease-fire took place from 17th October to 11th November. Ordered by Marshal Foch, the last battle, the Victory Battle, was fought in Vrigne-Meuse on 10th and 11th November 1918. On the morning of 11th November, news of the signing of the cease-fire was known at 8.45. The order took effect at 11am. After the last fighting, Delaluque’s bugle sounded the cease-fire, a call soon to be repeated by the Germans. The last official victim of the Great War, Augustin Joseph Trébuchon, infantryman in the 415th regiment, died 15 minutes before the cease-fire. As the last soldier to fall on the frontline, he was buried in Vrigne-Meuse Cemetery. With this last battle, the 1914-1918 war ended in the Ardennes.

Further information: www.paysdessources.com

To see

In Chatel-Chéhéry

Circuit du Sergeant York

Alvin York (1887-1964) is one of the Great War’s most famous Americans. On 8th October 1918, following violent attacks from machine guns, Corporal York, known later as Sergeant York (328th regiment - 82nd division), at the head of a small group of men, launched an attack on German positions taking 132 German soldiers prisoner. According to the commander of the allied armies, Marshal Foch, this was "the greatest achievement accomplished by a simple soldier in any of the armies in Europe." In Châtel-Chéhéry, a 3-km historic tour in the forest can help you discover the location of this feat of arms.

Further information: www.argonne-ardennaise.fr

Wadelincourt

The U.S. intervention from April 1917 was a huge relief to France. Alongside Marshal Foch at the origin of the general offensive on the Meuse, General Pershing, commander of U.S. forces, pushed back the German army to Sedan and then Wadelincourt.

In Wadelincourt, the American War Memorial "This Point" marks the end point of the advancing American troops. It is here on 10th November 1918 that General Pershing made an emotive speech paying tribute to his troops.

Further information: www.tourisme-sedan.fr

Vouziers

Stèle Roland Garros, St-Morel

On 5th October 1918, pilot Lieutenant Roland Garros’ Spad crashed in Saint-Morel following a dogfight. He had been the first person ever to cross the Mediterranean by air in 1913 and had invented the first fighter plane. He enlisted as a volunteer on 2nd August 1914 and became famous for being brilliant in battle by winning the 6th, 7th and 8th victories of the allied air force. In April 1915, forced to land in occupied territory, he was taken prisoner for 32 months in Germany before escaping and returning to the front, where he eventually died. He is buried in Vouziers Cemetery. The rough granite stele is crowned by a winged victory, symbol of the aerial victories he won. Built on the site of the crash, it includes the Garros medallion and the following inscription: “It is here on 5th October 1918 that came crashing down pilot Lieutenant Roland Garros’ plane and where he died following a battle he fought alone against several enemy planes. He had been flying far ahead of his squadron and was about to fly over the strategic station that the Germans had built two hundred yards from this field in the direction of Saint-Morel”.

Further information: www.argonne-ardennaise.fr

At a place called Chestres in Vouziers, a monument honours the 21st and 22nd regiments of the Czechoslovakian Chasseurs fallen in battle in October 1918. Donated by Czechoslovakia, it is the work of the Czech architect John Zázvork and represents a Czechoslovakian soldier holding a grenade: "Passers-by, it was here and hereabouts that the 21st and 22nd regiments of Czechoslovakian volunteers made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of Czechoslovakia and for the glory and grandeur of beloved France. We honour the Heros who died here … Pravda-Vitezi 1914-1918."

Further information: www.argonne-ardennaise.fr