With recent interest in Birdsong and the fascination with the war underground, there is a tendency to forget that mine warfare was not just restricted to Flanders and the Somme. It took place on many other parts of the Western Front and some of the Great War battlefield’s most impressive mine craters are in the French sector, not where the British Army fought.
This image shows a mine crater in the Champagne battlefields near Reims. The chalk of the Champagne was similar to Picardy, so it proved to be well suited to tunnelling operations, especially as the front here was static for so long. The Germans are wearing Stahlhelms so this image likely dates from 1917 or 1918; perhaps during the German offensive here in 1918 when much of the area was overrun until the final French offensive broke the German defences in the autumn of 1918.
Photographs of German war cemeteries always fascinate me as they not only dispel the myth that Germany never properly commemorated it’s battlefield fallen but that it gives us an insight into how revered their dead was in the same way we treated our own.
This photograph from 1915 shows a German cemetery just behind their front line in the Champagne sector. There are several villages called Fontaine in this area and it does not appear that a cemetery of this name exists today; it is likely the graves were moved into a larger cemetery post-war.
The quality of Great War images is so great that it is possible to enlarge areas of them to get out aspects that might not at first be so obvious. The enlargement of the section below captures a moving moment in time as a German soldier holds his cap in his hand with head bowed, remembering a friend and comrade who lies in the grave before him.
Following on from yesterday we again feature some images from the photo album of ‘D.Lauder’ a young British woman who may have worked as a Nurse attached to the French Army who visited the battlefields between Reims and Verdun 1925.
Navarin Farm was a position on the Champagne Battlefields of 1915 which saw heavy fighting in the fighting of September 1915. French troops assaulted and captured the German positions here at great loss and it soon became a household name throughout France.
After the war it was selected as one of the sites to build a French National Ossuary. The ‘pyramid’ memorial to the Armies of the Champagne was unveiled in 1924 and not only contains numerous memorials to those who fought here but underneath are the bones of more than 10,000 men who fell on the Champagne battlefields.
Today part of the desolated ground around the memorial is still preserved but the view in 1925 (below, taken from the Navarin Farm monument) gives an idea what the war had done to battlefields like the Champagne.
The French 75mm Field Gun has often been called the artillery piece of the Great War. Brought into service in the last years of the nineteenth century, it had a unique recoil mechanism which meant that it could fire between 15 and 30 rounds a minute without the gun moving. Normally a field gun had be re-positioned to fire after every shot; the 75mm could deliver a huge rain of shells precisely in a short space of time, which gave the French Army the upper hand when the war turned to stalemate and artillery dominated the battlefield. In 1914 more than 4,000 were in service and by the end of the war more than 12,000 had been produced.
This image shows men of the 44th Regiment d’Artillerie of the French Army either just before the war on manoeuvres or at the time of mobilisation in August as it is dated 1914 on the reverse in pencil. The 44th was from Le Mans in France and weeks after this photo was taken, the unit was in action during the Battle of the Marne, where the German Army was stopped in its tracks at the very gates of Paris. It spent the winter of 1914/15 near Reims getting used to being dug in as Trench Warfare developed, and in 1915 took part in Operations in the Champagne. In 1916 it fought at Verdun, and in 1917 was back on the Marne before returning to the Champagne in 1918.
The men in the photograph are officers of the 44th; they are wearing the pre-war uniforms of blue serge and in field service attire with the equipment needed to do their job as gunner officers; map cases and binoculars. The officer second from right is likely to be either the 44th’s commander or a Brigade commander within the 44th; he is wearing the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest decoration which could be awarded for general duties as well as for gallantry in the field and may just indicate he had some service in the army. Sadly no names are appended, but one wonders what sights and sounds these men experienced only weeks after this image was taken, and how many of them survived that long journey from the Marne back home.