Saturday, November 3, 2012

Armistice Day Arriving

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The 94th anniversary of the end of World War One is coming up on November 11th, a national holiday here in France. A fitting time to post a few photos from a couple of sites I had the good fortune to visit recently, thanks to a chance meeting at a stone quarry in the middle of nowhere with two gentlemen also interested the history of what was called "la Grande Guerre"... the Great War. Near the town of Noyon the ruins of a chapel destroyed during the war still remain, with a cast iron Christ within which fell during the shelling. As he suffered some 2000 years ago, so too did his replica suffer nearly 100 years ago in this chapel which stood immediately adjacent to the trenches of the front lines. It is surprising the sculpture was not more heavily damaged, as artillery shells fell like rain in that area.
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More cast iron work in the chapel, with autumn colors, and the iron Crucifixion figure at upper left.
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In the cemetery at Thiescourt, also near the front lines, a memorial to those dreadful years... 1914 to 1918.
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The gate to the German cemetery at Thiescourt.
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During the first world war the German army allowed soldiers of Jewish faith to serve. Things would change not long thereafter.
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"To the memory of Henri Bruge. Born the 1st of February 1882 at Ergues in the Pas de Calais, Adjutant Chef in the 4th Regiment of Cuirassiers, died for France, reported missing in action at Plémont on 9 June1918, awarded the War Cross with silver star and the Military Medal posthumously"
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At the entrance to the old stone quarries near Dreslincourt, occupied by the Germans for three years during the war. They left Gothic inscriptions carved on the outside stone walls, later shattered when they tried to blow up a nearby entrance to the quarry. The words carved here were part of a poem, saying :
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"The world might be torn apart
Every oath like straw
I know a word like iron
It's called soldiers loyalty"
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In German "soldiers loyalty" was one word : Soldatentreu
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Another German sign carved above an entrance to the stone quarries, a labyrinthine series of tunnels that go on for kilometers underground... it would be very easy to get lost in there. I was lucky to have a good guide who knew the place well.
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Graffiti from the war years... they didn't have spray paint cans back then, so they carved instead.
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In the woods outside unexploded artillery shells can still be found lying about. Chilling reminders of the not so distant past here.
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An imperial eagle carved on an exterior quarry wall.
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More German, to the effect that the German soldiers feared only God.
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Inside the miles of tunnels there were signposts, here indicating the way to the Command Post Calypso.
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Boots from the war still remain undisturbed deep in the tunnels.
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A wonderful French rooster carved on a wall to honor the 324th Infantry Regiment.
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Near one of the entrances to the quarry tunnels.
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German barbed wire from the war, rusting but still ready to unroll and use apparently. Maybe a bit fragile now, but still looking nasty.
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More artillery shells found in farm fields nearby, waiting to be collected by the munitions disposal service which still remains busy nearly 100 years later.
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24 comments:

the fly in the web said...

Well might the figures 1914 - 1918 be weeping....
For the folly of the Versailles treaty which engendered 1939 - 1945
and now for the folly of the EU imposing a second Versailles on its own citizens...

Leslie D. said...

This is possibly the best post I have ever come across. Stunning! I am a WW I fanatic to begin with but the images you've captured here are positively haunting -- they make the reality of that incredible war so real. Thank you thank you

French Girl in Seattle said...

Beautiful, and chilling all at once, cher Monsieur Toad. Only you could capture the mementos left behind by all the unfortunate souls who were engaged in "la Grande Guerre." To think they were at it again just 20 years later... That poor soldier Henri Bruge. He survived the horrors of the war... only to perish a few months before the end of the war. The absurdity of it all! Great work, Owen. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

martinealison said...

Un très très bel hommage...
Des photos magnifiques...
Gros bisous

Lorrene said...

Your photos are the punctuation marks the history books left out. I found it very interesting.

Owen said...

Dear Fly,
Indeed, indeed, the misery of the twenties in Germany (which Remarque captures so well in some of his late work after "All Quiet...") only fostered even greater evils. Even if there hadn't have been a charismatic leader like Hitler, (supposing he might have died in a gas attack in WWI, instead of only being wounded) one can't help but wonder what would have happened...

Owen said...

Leslie, thanks so much ! Have you been to France to look around a bit at WWI sites ? There are many places to go look around...

If you look through the past posts here, I've done quite a few over the years about various places related to WWI.

Owen said...

Bonjour Véronique !
Well, I'm not so sure that only me could do this, in fact there are rather a lot of people still very actively interested in WWI. There is a FB page/group called Patrimoine de la Grande Guerre, which is run by an association of the same name, based in Noyon. And there is another association near Nampcel which visits sites like this, Association 14 18. And then there is the two volume set of books named "Traces de la Grande Guerre" of photos by Jean Cartier... you can see some of his work here :

http://www.jscartier.com/index.html

And we found another wonderful book not long ago about graffiti left during the war on stone walls in various places...

Take care, à bientôt, bises...

Owen said...

Bonsoir Martine, Bonsoir Léo,
Merci de votre passage, bien content de vous voir tous les deux !

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Dear Lorrene,
Sometimes the history books leave out more than just punctuation marks... I'm amazed at how little I learned in school finally, at the age when we were most apt for learning. Or maybe I just wasn't curious enough... and didn't dig deep enough.

The Sagittarian said...

You are so lucky to have so much history almost at your own doorstep! The poignant photo of the boots...

Gwen Buchanan said...

There is a beautiful sadness about these.

Owen said...

Dear Saj, indeed, indeed, it was such a vast event, it boggles the mind. The entire region just to the north of here, all the way to Belgium, and then to the east, all the way to the German and Swiss borders, is simply dotted with battlefields, cemeteries, monuments, memorials, quarries, and remains of trenches. If one hunts a little one can still find all sorts of reminders like these that finally 90 odd years is not such a long time.

Owen said...

Hi Gwen, for sure, great sadness, immense melancholy that for all of man's intelligence and efforts at civilization, the barbarian under the veneer is all too present, then and now.

Robert William Service, originally from Scotland, but who emigrated first to the US, then the Canadian northwest during the Yukon gold rush, returned to Europe during the war, and wrote some of his strongest poetry about it. One piece of his that comes to mind, in view of all the artillery shells still present that were fired, but did not explode, is "The Munitions Maker" :

I am the Cannon King, behold!
I perish on a throne of gold.
With forest far and turret high,
Renowned and rajah-rich am I.
My father was, and his before,
With wealth we owe to war on war;
But let no potentate be proud . . .
There are no pockets in a shroud.

By nature I am mild and kind,
To gentleness and ruth inclined;
And though the pheasants over-run
My woods I will not touch a gun.
Yet while each monster that I forge
Thunders destruction form its gorge.
Death’s whisper is, I vow, more loud . . .
There are no pockets in a shroud.

My time is short, my ships at sea
Already seem like ghosts to me;
My millions mock me I am poor
As any beggar at my door.
My vast dominion I resign,
Six feet of earth to claim is mine,
Brooding with shoulders bitter-bowed . . .
There are no pockets in a shroud.

Dear God, let me purge pure my heart,
And be of heaven’s hope a part!
Flinging my fortune’s foul increase
To fight for pity, love and peace.
Oh that I could with healing fair,
And pledge to poverty and prayer
Cry high above the cringing crowd:
“Ye fools! Be not by Mammon cowed . . .
There are no pockets in a shroud.”

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For info, American folk singer Country Joe McDonald (of Woodstock renown) set this, and a few other, Service poems to music on an album of war protest songs titled "War, War, War". I couldn't find him doing it on YouTube, but there is a cover of it here :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=788nwM4YNuA

Another Service poem which Country Joe set to music on that album, "The Man From Athabaska" (mis-labeled as Aphabaska) can be heard here in Country Joe's voice...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_QpLJaKDCI&feature=related




Owen said...

PS If comment moderation goes into effect here it is only because spam comments have started appearing in the most recent posts, which I haven't had happen before, but it is annoying to have to delete them one by one...

Genie said...

My daddy was in the Corp of Engineers in the Great War in France. He rode horseback and was involved in the making of the roads and trenches. He NEVER would speak of his experiences, but I feel it left a horrible dark shadow over his life forever. I went to France and Belgium to see some of the battlefields and cemeteries, and I will never forget what I saw. This post brings back so many memories of my trip so I will be coming back a number of times to view and read your commentary. I need to put together my annual post in honor of Daddy. Thanks you so much for sharing your pictures with us. If they do not touch the souls of the children of those who fought the good fight in "the war to end all wars, I do not know what will. genie

Peter Olson said...

French, German... whatever nationality, what a bad luck to be young those years! The most surprising of what you show here (some fantastic shots!) may be the boots! Incredible to see them still left there - only the laces seem to be gone!

louciao said...

bombs and messages left behind, abandoned boots, a hollow-kneed Christ; a painted rooster who will never crow victory over the break of dawn for the wandering ghosts of bootless soldiers; and still the red and green vines grow, eventually laying claim to all.

louciao said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lgsquirrel said...

Another great photo essay that brings back the reality of those terrible years. I noted with interest that the statue of Christ had its legs broken and what seemed to be a hole on his side - almost a more realistic rendering of the abuse Christ suffered 2000 years ago.

Stickup Artist said...

Too many favorites! The sunlight on the crucified Jesus head is like a halo, the lighting reaches symbolic/mythic proportions. And those boots give me the shivers. But it's an extremely powerful image. The entry to the quarry tunnel with all those arcing, circular elements is so unusual and elegant. And I love the textures on the barbed wire and the artillery. But those are super creepy too. Those post gave me goosebumps.

James said...

I always enjoy your cemetery and WWI post but I think this one just might be my favorite. Great post Owen!

Tom Bejgrowicz said...

My great-grandfather fought for Germany in WWI, actually. The war is a mystery here in the U.S. as history classes, books, movies, etc. all focus on WWII. One fine day I'd love to visit these places but, until then – I'll live vicariously through your experiences. Thanks, as always, for sharing…

Robert Geiss said...

Makes silent.

Thank you very much for your effort and this impressive walk.

Karine A. said...

Les vieux cimetières, sont les meilleurs livres d'histoire...
Tes photos sont émouvantes, j'aime particulièrement celle des botines