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The Western Front
Kevin McLaughlin and & Allen Frantzen in France, Sept.1-6, 2004
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Memorials and cemeteries visited:

Fort Vaux
Douamount (Verdun)
Neuville-St. Vaast
Vimy Ridge
Also seen in France

  in 2002: Metz
  in 2005: Laon

Day 1. September 2, 2004 (Thursday)

I arrived in Frankfurt at 9.30 a.m., zipped through customs, found Kevin ready and waiting, and by 10 we were on the way to Metz. We reached the border and called Pierre at noon and were in Metz by 1.15 or so, taking some time to find a phone card so we could called Pierre again. We went to Le Loft (opposite the train station) for lunch; Pierre met us there at about 2. After lunch we went to the cathedral at Metz (a warmish walk; it was close to 90 degrees or maybe more). We saw the famous Chagall windows and the very fine west front and then drove to Nancy.
We checked in about 5.30 (no difficulty finding the hotel); Kevin went off to write postcards and I took a nap. About 7.30 we sent off to walk through town and find dinner (Best Western Crystal). This is the Place Stanislas, which we saw in the last glow of the day.

Day 2. September 3, 2004 (Friday)

We set off very early and were on our way by 8. Our first stop was Vieville-en-Haye, a small town on the way to Thiacourt. This is Kevin next to a marker saying that the town was taken Sept. 12, 1918, and that the US front was 3 miles north of this line.

I see now by the map that had I been a sharper and more practiced reader I'd have seen two cemeteries we had already passed up, one in Feye-en-Haye and the other in Vieville itself. At Thiacourt the first cemetery we saw was German:
. (My pictures there are #5469-75.) We then went to the Thiacourt memorial, near the "mairie" or town hall, which was flying the US flag and French flags, which we were pleased to see.

Then we found the large American cemetery, looking magnificent in the bright sunlight, with workers redoing the main path (these are #5482-93; here for information on all the US military cemeteries).
There are bronze doors and plenty of material here for a second visit to the Chateau-Thierry area, which we skipped.
On from en route to to Montsec, the US memorial at the top of the hill that gives an overview of the entire St. Mihiel salient. We stopped at Richecourt to see the remarkable monument there.

(#5494-95; it was 10.30). At Montsec we saw someone repainting the mock-up of the salient (#5493-5506); there were great views.
We went to the town of St. Mihiel, where we had lunch (starting with 5507-09; 11.30 a.m.). After lunch we stopped briefly for a memorial to the civilian victims at Rouvrois-sur-Meuse (5510-11).

We settled in (or rather I did) for the trip ito Verdun and had our pictures taken in trenches (5512) en route to Fort Vaux.

We saw the interior, then quickly went to Douamount and, near the ossuary, saw the huge French cemetery. I also took an unsettling picture of the ossuary as seen from outside (last picture is 5522).

The route to Montfaucon was long and indirect. It's south and east of Romagne and not easy to find (5523-27). I must have run out of steam here and been somewhat overwhelmed by the scale (14,246 dead) because I took few pictures of the

central memorial area, even though it was quiet. I have several

photos of graves, including some of the

civilian graves there. But there seems to have been a trade-off between my experience of the place and my ability to fix it (or try to) in pictures.

We ended the day at Reims, drawing up to

the cathedral just as

the last rays of the sun were turning it a lovely pink. In my last photo (they are 5528-36) the color has just gone out of it and the place looks rather blank. Kevin and I both remembered Wharton's amazing description of the front of the cathedral after it had been shelled and burned by the Germans (Fighting France), the many colors of the facade; she expected that the stone would all collapse with the fall rains, but she was wrong; certainly most of the statues there (some are very badly damaged) are original. I forgot to show Kevin the bullet holes on one side of the church; I recall that Tim noticed them in 1999.

Day 3. September 4, 2004 (Saturday)

We left Reims about 10, having visited the cathedral after breakfast (5537-54) and seen a bit of

St. Joan on an altar and in another

Chagall window showing Joan at the coronation of Charles VII in 1427 (she has her back to the right-hand edge of the window and is holding a banner; his gold crown is under the middle of the banner staff:

another). We went to the small British cemetery at

Vendresse (5555-57). We drove along the , where first stop was to Cerny-en-Laonnois, where we found excellent

displays with information about the cemeteries and a discussion of the cemeteries begun behind the lines during the war. At Vendresse, for example, are the tombstone for about 40 soldiers who were buried in churchyards and whose graves were subsequently destroyed.

From Cerny we went to Laon, where I foolishly misidentified some

little church at one end of the town for the cathedral, much to K's amusement (5562-64). We found the

cathedral at last (5565-71); I took 4 pictures of the

railyards (strategic importance, obviously 5572-75). (There are pictures of Laon taken in 2005 at this link.

There are photographs from two places outside Laon. At Bezny-et-Loizy we stopped at a small

French cemetery (5576-77); then we went on to Vivaise (5578-79), which we though was full of flowers and unusual because it is a

painted Poilu memorial. We skipped St. Quentin (Wister says he could see the holes the Germans had drilled in the pillars of the cathedral, planning to blow it up) and Peronne (both important to me for their role in the Hundred Years War) and went through Albert (K glimpsed the famous once-handing madonna) to Thiepval and the huge memorial there (pictures 5590-98).

On the way to Thiepval we stopped at

Pozières, a solemn, impressive, blindingly white memorial and cemetery (#5687-89). I am not sure where we saw the next one--and not sure that a map will help, although the pictures are time-stamped and I can get some idea from that. This was the British cemetery at

Bray-sur-Somme, where we found graves

very close together and some Indian graves at one end. It was a distinctive place and it was used for front-line burials in 1917. The closeness of the graves means, I think, that although they know who is buried in the cemetery, they do not know exactly whose body is whose. The cemetery was on both sides of the front at one time or another and was no doubt blown up many times, making more exact identification impossible. The shoulder-to-shoulder gravestones are silent testimony, then, to a disturbing fact. I am reminded that at Vendresse we saw several tombstones along the outer wall with the names of British soldiers who had been buried near a church that had been destroyed and that their bodies could not be accounted for.

We stoped a while at Thiepval,

unforgettably huge, ugly, serious, with a French-English

cemetery behind it and a new visitors' center (where Kevin bought a big book of war pictures). (There are some pointed comparisons between this memorial and the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., in James Tatum's The Mourner's Song: War and Remembrance from the "Illiad" to Vietnam [Chicago, 2004]). The next pictures are of the Newfoundland site at Beaumont-Hamel, where we had another great view of

Thiepval (you have to look closely at the background to find it) and where we made a quick tour of the

trenches in beautiful late-afternoon light (5599-5606).

Then we made the drive to Doullens, not much of a place. But I was glad to find that the

cemetery there held dead from the hospital mentioned by Wharton and Wister (5607/8-14). There is a section of graves for the Germans who died

there. I had though that I had photographed the graves of the nuns who were superiors at the hospital--one died in 1917, I remember, one I think in 1923--there were 4 of them). We guessed that the hospital is now a recreational facility for families on welfare, but I don't know). That was it for the second day until we got to Arras and took pictures of the carnival outside the hotel window (5615-27). We think this was connected to VE Day, which is Sept. 5 or 6. There was a

celebration pending for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Laon, as

I remember.

Day 4. September 5, 2004 (Sunday)

We left Arras heading west, looking for the British memorial, but it was not to be found. We did, however, find many small cemeteries: Louez, Rollincourt, both used for frontline burials. We saw the

Zivy Crater (5628-30, first pictures of the day). Then we saw the huge German cemetery at Neuville-St. Vaast.

The large

"Kamarad" memorial (5631-34) is for 44,000 soldiers. Very nearby are the British and French cemeteries at Targette.

The French cemetery includes some WW II graves (5635-44). We finished up at Vimy Ridge and the Canadian trenches and the memorial there.

Then we hit the road, running into more VE celebrations and traffic tie-ups.

Day 5. September 6, 2004 (Monday)

That's it. No more pictures (5645-56)--except

Kevin outside his apartment Monday as we left for the station and my train to the Frankfurt airport--and a very good picture it is.

October 11, 2004, with some notes August 13, 2005

Register of pictures (all downloaded to hard drive). Day 1 5446 to 5536
Day 2 to 5536 to 5627
Day 3 to 5627 to 5656