Monday, February 28, 2011

The End of an Age . . .

.
.
.
In the news today on CNN's website there was a story about a very old, old man who passed away yesterday at the age of 110. Frank Buckles was the last remaining living American veteran from World War One. Born in February 1901, he enlisted at the age of 16, lying about his age to military recruiters. According to the internet, there are still two WWI veterans alive today, one in England, and the other in Australia, 109 and 110 respectively. Seems amazing that anyone can live that long, and even more amazing, the history they witnessed in their lifetime, practically the entire twentieth century. Rest in peace, Mr. Buckles.
.
At the same WWI site we visited recently, reported on in the post just a couple back, about a walk in the woods, this headless stone angel was trying to break free from the block of rock which emprisoned her, to break free and fly, like the soul of an old veteran who has finally shrugged off his mortal coil.
.
.







































.
.
.
Here is another angle on the stone sphynx which graced that surprisingly poignant place.
.
.






































.
.
.
In the same quarried out chamber where the stone altar was, depicted in the earlier post, was a bas relief soldier who'd set down his pack and rifle.
.
.

.
.
.
Just a few kilometers away from the sculpture garden quarry site deep in the woods, in the small Picardy village of Plessiers de Roye, there stand the ruins of a chateau which was destroyed in the Spring offensive of 1918, and was never razed nor rebuilt. Stones left standing in mute testament to the horrors of warfare.
.
.


.
.
.
Every wall of that once lovely place was pockmarked with bullet and shell scars.
.
.


.
.
.
In the town's cemetery a tombstone for a WWI victim bore a first name I'd never seen before anywhere . . . "Elisée". Like "les Champs Elysées".
.
.

.
.
.
Just up the road from the ruined chateau, there is another stone quarry site, also used for a troop shelter in WWI, as the sign on the battered down heavy wood doors attests. This quarry goes much deeper and farther underground than the site where the sphynx was. Only a short way from the entrance one find's oneself in complete pitch black darkness. Best to bring good lights.
.
.






































.
.
.
Hundreds of yards up one of the underground quarry tunnels there is an altar carved into the stone wall, not unlike the one at the other site. There may be some war victims buried somewhere in the quarry galleries, as this plaque on the wall would seem to confirm. The fading writing says : "Here rests Eugene Blondet, Aspirant in the 162nd Infantery Regiment, Died for France on 10 June 1916, Age 19 years old.
.
.






































.
.
.
This is the altar deep in an underground cavern of the "Carrière Mallet", or Mallet Quarry.
.
.

.
.

.
The rustic Christ on the altar's cross is rather fascinating, with large hands and hair in the breeze.
.
.







































.
.
.
One of the few sources of information (in French) I could find about the Carrière Mallet contained this postcard image from the war, when the quarry was used not only as a shelter but also as a field medical station.
.
.

.
.
.
We visited the quarry that day with Peter (of Peter's Paris renown), while in the dark of the tunnels he shot this photo of me. Thanks Peter for your excellent company !
.
.

.
.
.

61 comments:

clo said...

Howdy cher Owen...
pour une fois que j'arrive a ne pas etre la derniere pour deposer ici un commentaire....
Tu sais il y a plusieurs photos qui ne s'affichent pas..j'espere que c'est temporaire...ou que tu pourras faire quelque chose...
quoiqu'il soit je repasse un peu plus tard pour voir la totalité de ton message..et je dépose ici sous les ailes de cet ange sans tête de douces pensées et un gros bisoux amical...:o)

Peter said...

(Je vois bien toutes les photos.)

My photo of you is slightly blurry, sorry, but it least it shows with which emphasis you explore these quarries.

These posts are really interesting, fascinating... and it was really nice to be able to accompany you during one of these excursions! :-)

Snowbrush said...

I guess the black marks around the altar are from candles.

I've wondered how many WWI veterans are still alive. I suppose in another year, there might well be none.

I really enjoyed this post, Owen, esp your wonderful photos.

mythopolis said...

It is amazing that he lived that long, or even survived that war! Very thought-provoking post.

Owen said...

Hullo Dear Clo !
Peu importe si tu es en premier, au milieu, à la fin, ou pas du tout, peu importe, je suis ravi, plus que ravi quand tu peux venir...

J'étais juste en train de regarder à l'instant ta série d'images de graines de clematite... magnifique !

J'espère que toutes les images ici vont s'afficher pour toi, elles s'affichent sur mon écran, et Peter visiblement arrive à les voir, peut-être juste un tout petit hic ponctuel du cyberspace. Parfois en faisant un simple "raffaichir" d'écran, des images pas chargées la première fois s'affichent.

En espérant que tu vas bien, voire très bien... j'ai cru comprendre que ton coin a eu un peu de pluie récemment. J'ose esérer que les déboires de l'été dernier ne vont pas recommencer. Je t'envoie des tonnes de parapluies avec quelques petits bises aussi...

Owen said...

Hi Peter, I hope we'll have the chance to go on some other excursions. I wish you could have come on the one a few days later when we found the other site reported on here. But actually, it was probably just as well not that day, because it took an extraordinarily long time to find it. But now that I know where it is and how to get there, maybe we can organize another outing, in a few weeks when the weather warms up a bit. The person we met with you who talked about the history of the area said he would like to take us to see some other sites, maybe you could come along that day too... Tons of history out there still, but slowly fading away.

Owen said...

Hi Snowbrush... I imagine you're right about the candles. It looked to us like there must have been something attached to the wall on each side of the cross, the small black marks where the seam in the rock goes through the cross are holes for bolts or screws. Whatever was there must have served as a candle holder at times, whether that was the original intention or not. Too bad that part is missing. People vandalize sites like this, and steal anyting possible to steal. We are fortunate this much of it is still left intact.

Thanks so much, glad you enjoyed these photos...

Owen said...

Hi Myth, totally amazing, and apparently he was quite active until not long ago... many stories about him on the web...

Peter said...

Yes, I would join you again with pleasure! :-)

Lorrene said...

Another great post. Thank you.

Stickup Artist said...

Wow. Your explorations are so very interesting. That crumbling chateau has such a haunting beauty and the tunnel looks a little bit scary! What wonderful adventures uncovering all this history from such a personal view of the men that left their mark and the photographer a century later, who has rediscovered their messages carved in rock.

...louciao... said...

Arrived, looked, enjoyed. Thanks.

lgsquirrel said...

Fascinating. Thanks for sharing with us this glimpse into life during those war years. Are those quarries open to the public or did you guys sneak in? I was just thinking that it was very adventurous of you. Is there no risk that the quarry tunnels have become unstable with age? The squirrel salutes the bold adventurers.

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Amazing again, Owen... your photos and spelunking talents are stunning. I wondered if you knew that Mr. Buckles was living in Japan during WWII and was captured as an American civilian... He lived a long and intresting life.

I am looking forward to more of your exploration.

Bises,
Genie

Catherine said...

beautiful post with stunning photos...I caught that story today too about last veteran in USA - sobering thought - I thought the last UK soldier doed a few yrs ago - harry something who made a moving speech about not seeing the Germans as the enemy - he bore no malice and simply stated they were just kids like us...maybe there is still another?? Greetings from Mexico........

Lena said...

110... Wowie... Now, that's old... I'm not sure I would want to live that long...
I'm a bit obsessed with lichens lately... I love the colours and textures they add to stones... Great shots, Owen...
Warmest hugs!

Steve said...

I think the day we forget our soldiers - both old and new - is the day that good sense, compassion and the fight for peace, as under threat as they already are, will surely die.

Mary Ann said...

The remains of the chateau are lovely in their ruined state. They look quite fragile.

Nadege said...

My grand-father was gased during world war I and died a horrible death. I remember watching the movie "le grand chemin" few years ago. It still resonate with me to this day. And "Joyeux Noel" and "a very long engagement" are pretty amazing too.

Mr. Charleston said...

The quarries remind me of a story I ran across and posted on some time back about the tunnels and caverns under New York city that have become rather avant galleries known only to a few who gather there. Apparently there are miles of old, unused subway, aqueduct, utility and waste water tunnels that honeycomb subterranean NY. I suppose much like Paris and maybe many other cities as well.

Good stuff.

Céline said...

Hi Owen,
One thing I like with your blog is I can also make some progress in english. Par exemple, je ne savais pas que les anges étaient féminines en anglais !
Le château est vraiment très beau et je trouve étonnant qu'après presque 100 ans la végétation ne l'ait pas complément fait disparaître... certainement un château hanté plein de fantômes qui débroussaille pendant la nuit :-)
By the way, how was the Riesling?

Margaret Pangert said...

This monochromatic photo of you in the tunnel is really dramatic. Great shot. You and the radio got me interested in WWI with the story of Frank Buckles. Alvin York was mentioned, too, as having been the most decorated soldier in that war. He even received the French Croix de Guerre.
Owen, I see you have two "Margaret" visitors! To differentiate between the two of us, I'll be "Margaret Pangert," and she can be "Margaret" (toute courte). http://margaretpanpipes.blogspot.com. Merci!

ρομπερτ said...

Your pictures amaze. Difficult to say anything intelligent. The 'heart' bleaches ones mind.


Please have a good Wednesday.

daily athens

Nevine said...

Owen, I am enamored of the angel... completely. And that rusting but tenacious plaque... oh my! It speaks volumes. What happened in the past never dies, does it? We are forever in the debt of history for partly shaping our present.

I picked my favorites, Owen, but I truly loved every photo! ;-)

Nevine

Owen said...

Lorrene, Thanks a million !

Owen said...

Hey Stickup, the chateau was certainly haunting, maybe a bit haunted to, I'm sure quite a few people perished around it. The tunnels were a bit unsettling, as they go on for quite a long way, and are pitch black. I take one of those lights you can crank up to re-charge it, so I won't run out of batteries. Not for anyone afraid of the dark or claustrophobic. My pulse rate definitely goes up in there, but in a good way... it's quite exciting. These places are far off the beaten tourist trail in France. An adventure...

Owen said...

Hi Lynne,
Have you been taking courses in minimalism ? Or just going to the other extreme after that last (wonderful) lengthy comment ? Well, do come and look and enjoy some more. Gaze at the sphynx for a while. Commune with the angel...

Or, just waffle away the afternoon...
:-)

...louciao... said...

Waffling, gauffring...

Lydia said...

Thank you. Our newspaper printed the obituary of Mr. Buckles, along with his wartime photo and a recent one. It hit me hard that the generation of my uncles and mother is going, going, gone. So I am glad to read here that there are two other WWI vets still alive (although I cannot imagine what it would be like to be the last of something so profound), making Mr. Buckles the last of the American WWI vets. There is such a finality to that because, unlike in Europe, here there are no actual historical war sites from that war. These engaging, remarkably touching images of yours have helped me with a sense of closure for the loss of Mr. Buckles, while easing somewhat that feeling of finality. Sure, all death is final, but without physical markers of the time/the warriors it is all too easy to forget.....

Looking for Siddhartha said...

again an interesting walk through time and history. It is a pity that they did not try to rebuild the castle. It is a bit sad to see those left-overs...
My favourite picture again the sphinx. I would be happy to see it in real.

Have a nice day, dear Owen!

Renée

Owen said...

Hi LGS,
With time, in any underground site like these, I guess there is some risk that sooner or later water seepage from the ground above could destabilize the ceiling rock, and eventually cause a collapse. It was clear that there had already been some collapses in a few areas in the site with large and long underground galleries. But then again, they've been there since well before the first War, some go back hundreds of years. So I think the chances of having one fall down on you while visiting are fairly remote. But not impossible. If such be my fate...

As for the property issues, one of the sites appears to be wide open, no posted signs other than "no dumping". But very hard to find if you don't know where it is. Another site, where the sculptures are, is on private property, which is posted as such at the edge of the woods. But people in the nearby town said it was ok to walk in there, and the woods are so big it would be very easy to walk in without having seen a sign... And as I'm a foreigner, it would also be easy for me to not understand the language on a sign... Does that answer your question ?
:-)
Also, from what I understand trespassing laws in Europe are more lenient than in the US...

Owen said...

Genie, yes, I had read some of the information available on the web about Mr Buckles, amazing that he survived WWI, and the survived a Japanese internment camp in WWII. And then went on to live another 65 years or so... a man of nine lives, perhaps ? Quite a life !

Glad you enjoyed the spelunking, although really it's just a question of adequate lighting, sturdy shoes, and a sense of direction.

Owen said...

Hi Catherine,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_surviving_veterans_of_World_War_I

Perhaps the distinction was between "combattant" and "veteran". I don't think the last living WWI veteran in the UK was a combattant.

But yes, so many were so terribly young, just kids, when all those awful things happened. Always the same old story, the old send kids off to get killed...

Owen said...

Hi Lena !
Well, one could do alot of blogging in 110 years !

Plenty of lichen to love in sites like these. Lichen really is the most amazing stuff, able to grow on hard cold rock surfaces... in the most adverse of environments. And can live a long time. But I can't imagine living like that... no cheesecake in the diet.
:-)

Owen said...

Steve, for sure, we must remember...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Sad indeed that WWI has almost passed from living memory. What beautiful evocative photographs.

Owen said...

Mary Ann, well, they may look fragile, but they've been standing like that apparently fairly well unchanged since 1918. But the water and ice must be doing their work, sooner or later these walls will fall. A photo is a way to save at least a memory of what was.

Owen said...

Nadege, I'm sorry for your grandfather... that's awful. Too many young people came to horrible ends in that war.

I loved Joyeux Noel, it's a beautiful film. A Long Engagement too. In French, Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles. My wife's great grandfather was a captain in the French army in WWI, and a photographer as well. His collection of 3000 glass plate negatives is in the archives now of the BDIC (Bibliotèque de Documentation International Contemporain), a hundred or so of them are accessible on their web site,(google BDIC) in the archives section. If you enter "Preissac" in their search field, you can find them... A self portrait that he did of himself posing in a gas mask was used on the cover of the paperback edition in France of Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles. Audrey Tautou was fabulous in that filrm.

Owen said...

Mr Charleston, must be unbelievable to visit the unknown subterranean parts of NYC. Paris has a vast network of ancient quarry tunnels. National Geographic just did an article about them in a very recent edition. I've only visited the parts that are open to the public in the Catacombs of Paris section. But that is only a tiny part of what is there under Paris. Glad you enjoyed...

Owen said...

Bonjour Céline, bon, j'espère bien que tu pourrais travailler un peu l'anglais ici, c'est une bonne chose donc ! Que tout cela sert à qqchs d'utile enfin...
:-)
Ce n'est pas que les anges sont toujours feminines en Anglais, c'est juste que cet ange-là était feminine. Fallait la voir en profil peut-être pour que cela soit plus clair. Mais au fait, en Français, un ange qui est de sexe feminine, est toujours "un" ange, et jamais "une" ange ? Ai ai ai, j'ai du mal parfois à suivre la logique derrière le Français.

The chateau was definitely haunted by ghosts who enjoy cutting down brush, because there was brush growing all over, but it seemed to be under control. We even talked to one of the ghosts... he had no wings though.
:-)

The riesling was very tasty !

L.D. said...

This is all incredibly fascinating! You have a remarkable eye for these things. As a passionate student of WW I I was surprised I hadn't come across that last American veteran in the news. I met a WW I veteran in Yountville about 7 years ago. He was 101. Very moving photos..love it!

Owen said...

Hi Margaret P.,
Sgt. York was perhaps one of the most famous Americans, other than Patton and Pershing, to serve in WWI. His actions which earned him the Medal of Honor and the Croix de Guerre are legendary. Glad this sparked your interest.

Owen said...

Robert, I've never seen you write anything un-intelligent, and your heart comes shining through, whether mind is "bleached" or not... thank you... you speak volumes with just a few words.

Owen said...

Ah, Nevine, the angel, headless angel... isn't she adorable ? I see where the word "adoration" comes from now. Yes, and rust, but you know how much I love rust by now.

History, human history, all leading up to what we have become today. I can't help thinking we have made some wrong turns, sort of like getting lost in the underground tunnels of one of those quarries. We humans are so obsessed with our various national prides, our weapons, our religions, our greed. I'm trying to imagine where all this history will lead us as like waves, it breaks over the present and rolls us on into the future... I'm having trouble seeing far ahead. Maybe need an angel to carry me higher, to see more clearly from above ?
Deepest thanks Nevine...

Owen said...

Lynne, maybe a little maple syrupping too ?
:-)

Owen said...

Lydia, that was a simply lovely series of thoughts you've offered here. I too found closure and support in these images while considering Frank Buckles passing, and all that passed with him. Though there is no going back, we can still look back.... we must look back.

Owen said...

Hello Renée, I'm not sure why the chateau wasn't rebuilt after the war, I may have to ask the current owner if he knows. Some people received compensation for war damage, but whether this property qualified for it, and what happened if it did... unknown...

The sphynx is timeless, peaceful beyond measure.

Owen said...

Laura, hard to imagine that ages come to an end, while others are just beginning. From that cup no more...

Owen said...

Dear L.D., you'll have to tell me more (I hope) about your interest in WWI... have you travelled perhaps in France in relation to that ? Or simply interested from a distance ? Did you have relatives involved in it ? Feel free to e mail me at owenmart333 at gmail dot com...

James said...

Excellent post! I'm in awe! What an amazing place. The sense of history is out of this world.
You really are a great "photoXplorer".

tattytiara said...

Only two, eh? Wow. My grandfather was another young punk who lied his way in. Got his thumb shot off at Somme. He was already very old when I was born and has been dead for a very long time, but when I think that his entire generation is nearly gone part of me grieves all over again.

Amazing photos. What a wonderful, thought provoking post.

Virginia said...

Well I"m late to this party but have so enjoyed your text and photos as always Owen. You seem to have such and eye for capturing the most beautiful details. The old ruins made me wish I had been along with you and your group. I'm not sure about the tunnels. Since Peter has wandered the catacombs, I"m sure he was fearless! HA
I'll leave that two you brave souls. I hope I can get myself back to Paris and have another blog adventure with you all.
V

Roxana said...

oh, Owen, i so love your history posts, i learn so much and am touched so intensely that i can hardly comment, these glimpses of the past, lives cut so brutally, always make me shudder and despair... i was listening to this, while reading and looking at the pictures, then stopped and listened, then read some more...

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3ij36_barbara-tu-n-en-reviendras-pas-arag_music

toemail said...

Great post ! I love those ruins shots.

Owen said...

James, I thank you, my cup runneth over... There is nothing I love more than getting out and visiting places like these. And these two spots were some of the most powerful I've ever seen bar none.

Owen said...

Hi Tatty !
Lucky he didn't get anything else shot off at the Somme, it was a fearsome place. I visited the Canadian memorial in that area, at Vimy a while back, have been meaning to post about it for some time now... so much material backed up and waiting to get on stage here. Yes, lucky he was able to get back home, and have one of your parents. Some 60000 Canadians did not come home. Including Robert William Service's brother who was an officer in the Canadian Army.

Many warm meows to you...

Owen said...

Hi Virginia, I'm sure we'll see you back over this way before too long. So you haven't visited the catacombs yet ? I'll bet Mary would love them also. Peter was excellent company in the tunnels, and even had the presence of mind to shoot that photo in the dark... a good man, that Peter. Thanks so much !

Owen said...

Roxana,
A flutter of heartbeats to see you've stopped by... the history in this area is piled high and deep... world wars, civil wars, 100 years war, Agincourt, Crecy, Vatel, Aga Kahn, etc., it goes on and on... many sobering and poignant traces still visible. But these sculptures in the woods and in the dark underground passages of old quarries, were rather overwhelming. I just went back and was reading the text of Aragon's poem, many thanks for putting the link to that here; what an awful time it must have been for so many people waiting for news of their loved ones.

Warm hugs to you and your little one who likes chocolate...
:-)

Owen said...

Hi Toemail, thanks ! and thanks for stopping by. I should have thought to take a photo of someone's toes here...

toemail said...

Next time :)

Pastelle said...

Le sphinx de pierre me touche toujours autant, il est magnifique.
Et j'adorerais faire des photos de ce chateau !
Merci de partager tout cela.