Visiting Le Linge battlefield

Le Linge ridge was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in Alsace, which the French were determined to take back at all costs, while the Germans were fighting for ground that had been their homeland since the 1870s.

Ill-fated French ridge.jpgLooking at the French lines from Le Linge ridge. If the French had fallen back to that ridge in the distance, they could have held this part of Alsace, but the government decreed that every inch of France was sacred, so they had to continue their attack up the slopes.

Le Linge German concrete work.jpgGerman fortifications on the Le Linge battlefield.

Germans over the top in LeLinge.jpgSteps for clambering out of the trench to attack the French.

Le Linge battlefieldMap of the battlefield at the memorial.

Le Linge request for respect.jpgA reminder, mostly for schoolkids, that this ground still holds the remains of many soldiers and must be treated as a cemetery.

Le Linge German soldier remains.jpgThe remains of an unknown German soldier, killed in 1915, were found here in 2010. The ground is uneven because of shell holes.

Remains found along Le Linge road,jpgThis soldier’s remains, found here along the French lines, were identified. He was buried in a French cemetery.

Le Linge barbed wireSAM_0431French barbed wire to defend against the Germans. The French had to attack the Le Linge ridge up a hill that was nearly vertical and blocked by their own, as well as German, wire like this.

German cemetery at Hohrod.jpgGerman cemetery at Hohrod, down from Le Linge ridge. Jewish soldiers’ graves are marked with tombstones, not crosses. They are often found with stones on their top edges, signifying that someone has come to visit the graves.

Observation post turned Hohrod vemetery entrance.jpgThe entrance to the cemetery was once a bunker that served as an observation post.

Le Linge looking back at French linesLast view of Le Linge. All is peaceful. Ninety-nine years ago, these farms and villages were nothing but smoking rubble.

America loses its first soldiers

The first three Americans fighting for the U.S. who were killed in combat died in a German trench raid Nov. 3, 1917. Corporal James Gresham and Privates Thomas Enright and Merle D. Hay were members of the 1st Division, assigned to a quiet sector in Lorraine, east of Nancy, alongside the French, who were to train them in trench warfare. A patrol of Germans crossed No Man’s Land to get a look at the Americans everyone had heard so much about, and in resulting hand-to-hand fighting, 12 men were taken prisoner and Gresham, Enright and Hay killed.

The French buried them on the battlefield, though their remains were returned home in 1921. The large cross erected Nov. 3, 1918, to honor them was destroyed by the Germans in 1940 and, after WWII, replaced with a solid slab. A poster nearby describes the three young men and the early actions of the U.S. in the war.

American soldiers killed

Poster re Americans who died for France

Brave little Belgium and the Forts of the Frontiers

The 2013 WWI Battlefields Tour reached Liege, Belgium, last night, and today we toured the one fort  — of the 12 the Germans encountered in August 1914 — that has been preserved, the Fortress of Loncin.

The Schlieffen Plan, conceived by the German military leader whose name it has, called for the German Army to sweep through Belgium, get around behind Paris and force France to surrender — in time to turn and face the Russians, who presumably would take longer to mobilize. However, as the Germans prepared to launch it when the war was declared, they discovered three limitations:

1) They couldn’t easily fight through the Ardennes Forest — and remember, speed was essential;

2) They didn’t want to anger the neutral Dutch, because they would need the port of Rotterdam to fight the British,

3) Albert, King of the Belgians, said: We are a neutral country, but we will defend ourselves against any invader and we will never surrender.

The Germans were so unimpressed by his defiance that although they had only  a narrow corridor through which to attack, they gave themselves until Aug. 10 to conquer Brussels. “Chocolate soldiers,” that’s what they called the Belgians. Instead, they finally took Brussels in October, and by then the Schlieffen plan had crumbled.

Liege was one of the cities in their way. It was attacked on Aug. 6 and taken by the Germans while several of its forts continued to hold out. Loncin was under continuous bombardment for three days while its garrison of 550 troops went on fighting. Finally, at 5:20 p.m. on Aug. 15, the Germans hit the fort with 25 shells from Big Bertha. One of them hit the powder room and most of the fort exploded, killing more than 80 percent of the garrison. Most of them still lay under the ruins, and the site is considered a grave. The Germans kept the fort until the end of the war, walling off the interior where the worst damage occurred.  The fort, in ruins, has been well-preserved, and you can walk around inside much of it. Then you come out on top, and you can see the horrific devastation.

The Belgians are very proud of Loncin. It never did surrender; its commanding officer was pulled out of the wreckage and taken prisoner while he was unconscious.

 

Most people think of Big Bertha as the Paris gun, the massive artillery piece that shelled Paris from 70 miles away and could only be moved by railway. In fact, Big Bertha was a mortar that fired 42-cm. shells. Loncin was the first time it had been used in combat.

I took lots of photos. Tomorrow we’re traveling to the Vosges Mountains and the southernmost end of the Western Front. I’ll post some Liege photos tomorrow night.

 

 

Remembering Vimy Ridge

Vimy Ridge Day was celebrated in Canada yesterday, a day to remember the men who fought April 9- 13, 1917, to take the ridge from the Germans and whose success — at a cost of more than 10,000 casualties, including 3,598 dead — marked a turning point for the Canada and its army.

From Veteran Affairs Canada:

Brigadier-General Alexander Ross had commanded the 28th (North-West) Battalion at Vimy. Later, as president of the Canadian Legion, he proposed the first Veterans’ post-war, pilgrimage to the new Vimy Memorial in 1936. He said of the battle:

“It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then . . . that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”

Here’s a link to a wonderful story from CBC Hamilton, with photos, videos and audio recordings:

http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/news/story/2013/04/08/hamilton-vimy-ridge.html

Image Carving the names  of the missing on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. There are 11,000 names.

Image Mother Canada mourning her dead; a detail of the memorial, one of the most impressive sites on the Western Front.

Over there, over there

The WW1HA is going to the battlefields again in May.

Come with me.

The tour will begin May 25 in Brussels and go to the fortress city of Liege, where brave little Belgium’s army held up the German advance for 12 days at the beginning of the war.

The group will move on to the Vosges Mountains in Alsace, to visit the Le Linge battlefield and museum, full of artifacts. More than 2 miles of trenches and fortifications are still in place. On to Hartmannswillerkopf and its incredible views — at nearly 1,000 meters above sea level — and memorials. The American Ambulance Services worked here.

Then to Verdun, the St. Mihiel Salient, Belleau Wood, Le Hamel — where American troops fought alongside Australians on July 4, 1918 — and a full day of exploring around Ypres, concluding with the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate.

To walk where they walked, to stand on the ground they fought so hard for is incredibly humbling.

To raise a glass to them while chomping frites — the best fries/chips you will ever eat — with the possibility of chocolate croissants for breakfast is incredibly fun.

Come on. I’ll meet you in Brussels and buy you a beer.

http://ww1ha.org/pdf/Battlefield-Tour-2013-Itinerary.pdf

http://www.examiner.com/article/french-world-war-i-trenches-of-le-linge-alsace

http://www.haute-alsacetourisme.com/en/sites-incontournables/hartmannswillerkopf-4.html

http://www.en.verdun-tourisme.com/

http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/stmihiel.htm

http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/b4/belleau_wood.htm

http://www.dva.gov.au/commems_oawg/OAWG/war_memorials/overseas_memorials/france/Documents/Battle_Le_Hamel.pdf

http://www.greatwar.co.uk/ypres-salient/battles-ypres-salient.htm

http://www.visitbelgium.com/?page=beer-lovers

 

Remembrance Day

I can’t imagine that anyone who isn’t a cyborg can visit the cemeteries and memorials on the Western Front and not be moved by reflections on what it must have been like to fight there, and how terrible the losses were.

I always thought the saddest sight was the repetition of the words “A Soldier of the Great War Known Unto God.” Here he is, someone’s son or brother or husband, and the family doesn’t know it. Those graves seemed to me so tragic.

Then someone in my family died, in 2011. His ashes were scattered in the forest he loved. It was what he wanted, it was fine.

But when the anniversary of his death arrived, and my grief was renewed, it was magnified because he wasn’t … anywhere. My religion teaches that when we die, we leave our bodies behind – that’s why we call them “the remains” – so it isn’t as though having him lying in a cemetery would mean he was still with us. But there isn’t even a stone. He just isn’t anywhere.

No U.S. cemetery of the First World War has even 1,000 unknown soldier graves. We had a fraction of the casualties compared to other armies, and our dead could be buried without expectation that they would be blown up again later by artillery. They were easier to find and then to identify – most of them, anyway. They were buried so far from home, few families ever were able to visit. Maybe it seemed as though their boys were missing, too.

Stand my family’s sorrow against the 73,000 names at Thiepval, or the 11,000 names on the Vimy memorial – I could go on and on. But listing them by the thousands is numbing. It only hurts when you reflect that each name belongs to a family mourning someone who was no longer anywhere at all.

In Memorium

The Graveyard Detective has an interesting post here with pictures of a memorial card created by someone who visited the St. Julian battlefield in 1934. It’s a very moving artifact.

http://graveyarddetective.blogspot.com/2012/09/battlefield-memorial-card.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheGraveyardDetective+%28The+Graveyard+Detective%29

Americans sleeping in Surrey

Here’s a post on the Brookwood American Cemetery and Memorial, near Brookwood, Surrey, and about 28 miles southwest of London.

http://graveyarddetective.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/brookwood-american-cemetery.html

Here’s a photo taken in November 2009:

U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers stand at attention during a Veterans Day observance at the Brookwood American Military Cemetery on Nov. 8. The 7th Civil Support Command color guard participated in the event, which honored the 468 American servicemembers laid to rest here and the 561 Soldiers, sailors and Marines missing in action, or lost at sea with names inscribed on the Brookwood chapel wall. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Valerie Resciniti, 7th CSC Public Affairs)

and here are specifics about the cemetery from the ABMC:

http://www.abmc.gov/publications/VisitorBrochures/Brookwood.pdf

The Graveyard Detective also has other posts of particular interest related to the First World War.

Feet to Remember

Caroline Copland of London had a dream: She was walking from the  Passchendaele battlefield to Canary Wharf, one of London’s two financial districts — the Wall Street of London, perhaps.

After she woke up, she decided to make the 125-mile journey on foot in reverse: London to Ypres, from the Cenotaph to the Menin Gate.

Her walk is a fund-raiser for Combat Stress. According to its website, “Combat Stress is the leading UK charity specialising in the care of Veterans’ mental health. We are currently supporting just over 5,000 ex-Service men and women.”

The organization began in 1919 as the Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare Society to rehabilitate veterans with shell shock.

Caroline expects to be in Ieper (Ypres), Belgium, on Thursday in time for the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. She’s blogging — shin splints! — and collecting donations at http://www.justgiving.com/feettoremember

Fun fact: In 1927, the Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare Society, to provide work for the men under its care, developed and manufactured one of the first electric blankets to be sold in the UK.

Here’s more about shell shock, which we now know as PTSD:

http://historyofptsd.wordpress.com/world-war-i/

 

 

 

 

 

July 1, 1916: Newfoundland

Fellow blogger Medic says:

“The battle of the Somme was a turning point in Newfoundland history. At the time the Canadian province of Newfoundland was a British colony. The Newfoundland Regiment lost many men that day that even today, July 1st is Canada Day but also Remembrance Day in Newfoundland.”

Image

Facebook friend Somme Battle’s photo of the Newfoundland Caribou and Memorial to the Missing in Newfoundland Park, Beaumont Hamel, Somme.