Wednesday, 1 July 2009

2006 The Long NOT Winding Road - History Lesson (Part 2)

The coach tour that we booked ourselves onto commenced at 14:00 and collected us from outside the Tourist Information Centre. The cost of the tour was 25.50 euros and we were informed that it would be all in French. We tried to keep up with our limited understanding of the commentary, but failed so we followed where the rest of the party were looking.
On our journey the coach stopped at several roadside locations between the major stops. One of these was an area showing some of the trenches from the period.

Our first stop was at the Tranchee des Baionnettes, Bayonet Trench, erected to the glory of the 137th Infantry Regiment.

The event itself is mingled with truth and legend. On June 12th 1916, this area was forming a salient west of Fort Douaumont, which the Germans wanted to capture before launching their main offensive on the 23rd.
Two battalions of the 137th Infantry Regiment, deployed at the front since June 10th, were the object of appalling shelling and very soon found themselves cut off. The regiment's third company had lost 94 of its 164 men by the night of the 11th. The remainder had been placed in a row of exposed trenches directly visible to the German artillery spotters. The artillery fire on the position increased in the early morning hours and the remainder of the 137th Regiment was annihilated almost to a man.

In Tony Langley's book The Price Of Glory, author Alistair Horne wrote:

It was not until after the war that French teams exploring the battlefield provided a clue as to the fate of 3 Company. The trench it had occupied was discovered completely filled in, but from a part of it at regular intervals protruded rifles, with bayonets still fixed to their twisted and rusty muzzles. On excavation, a corpse was found beneath each rifle, From that plus the testimony of survivors from nearby units, it was deduced that 3 Company had placed its rifles on the parapet ready to repel any attack and rather than abandon their trench had been buried alive to a man there by the German bombardment. When the story the Trench des Baionnettes was told it caught the world's imagination.

The monument was opened by Alexandre Millerand, President of the Republic, in the presence of the ambassador of the United States, on the 8th of December 1920. Other theories have evolved over the years about the fate of the last men of the 3rd Company. Gas or concussion from exploding shells are alternative explanations of the mass deaths of the men. This may have been followed by the Germans overrunning the position and hurriedly filling in the mass grave which would explain their unique internment. But the exact details are beside the point. As Mr Horne points out, the legend persists because whatever happened was an epic display of gallantry and sacrifice by the Poilus and the vivid documentation of the intensity of the fighting at Verdun. The Bayonet Trench Symbolizes what makes Verdun a singular event in military history.

Whatever the truth may in reality be, 3 Company. I salute you.


Affer said...

Your 4th photo: superb, and captures the atmosphere of the place excellently. And today, when the click of a computer mouse is sufficient to unleash devastating destruction half-a-continent away, the Trench itself is a ghastly reminder that war is still about death and killing people. And that we still ask soldiers to die for us.

bikerted said...

Once again Affer I cannot take recognition for the photos as they were taken by Guzzisue.
Looking once more at the photos I can see them in a new light. The cross in the 4th photo looks almost ghostly as it is silhouetted against the barbed wire and the background of a pleasant sunny day.
It's sad that events like these are slowly being taken out of the curriculum at schools. True, history does move on, but these are lessons that should still be taught.
With the new invention of the movie camera at that time, film was for the first time able to show the general public the horrors of "modern warfare". Today, pressing a button somehow blends reality into the realm of the computer game. And of course people get "wasted", but everyone will be home by Christmas, won't they?

Megan said...

Hiya, it's Megan H, just to say that I'm following now, love the site! xxx

Baron's Life said...

I think I am able to post now...for a long time your blog kept rejecting my posts...maybe it's
really enjoyed the way you detail all the story and the pics...thanks for everything...great job

bikerted said...

Hello Megan and welcome aboard! So pleased that you are enjoying my rambles. Hope your foot is getting better now, keep your mum running about (but don't tell her that I told you :o) ).
I will try and stowaway next time Ian and Guzzisue pop over.

Baron it's great to have you back! Not sure what happened. It's almost like a motorcycle breaking down, not finding anything wrong, putting it back together and it starting without problems.
All I did was check my settings and close the page. Prehaps I could become an IT specialist, but then again....

Baron's Life said...

Hey as long as it's working

TIW said...

I always understood that the tips of the bayonets were still visible above the ground. Are they visible or have they all rusted back into the earth?

Great posts, by the way.

bikerted said...

Hi there TIW. I cannot recall seeing any bayonet tips at all, so I can only assume that they have indeed rusted away.