WW1 Battlefield Sites in the Champagne-Ardenne Region

Champagne ArdenneMedia Press Guide on World War One Battlefields

The Champagne-Ardenne region of Northern France has produced a mini press-guide for the media on  its World War One Battlefields, museums & memorials to encourage British visitors to discover some of the less well-known sites during the next four years of the Centenary commemorations.

The general public can obtain information on battlefields, museums and memorials from www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk.

While the Somme is synonymous with great battles involving British and Commonwealth troops, it’s the Champagne-Ardenne region, where American, Russian, Italian troops, including some British, fought alongside the French and whose sites are less-well known, which aims to attract more British visitors during the Centenary commemorations. During WW1 the Ardennes and the north of the Marne were under German occupation with the heavily fortified Front Line running through the north of the Marne and the Argonne Forest, often occupying steep hillsides. The static trench warfare and fierce battles here have left many battle scars on the landscape.  After the war, the land was cleared for agriculture and the trenches and make-shift military buildings were simply covered over and forgotten. But where the ground has never been ploughed, relics remain just below the surface.

Today, nearly 100 years on, groups of enthusiastic military archaeologists are uncovering sites which have been long forgotten and fascinating discoveries are coming to light.

From original maps and documents and using the latest methods of ground surveying, two amazing German sites have been revealed. On a hill-top near the village of Massiges , where The Front Line remained static from September 1915 to September 1918, a huge trench system is being unearthed. This area, La Main de Massiges,  is yielding a vast amount of military objects buried in the intricate network of fortifications.  7 bodies (6 French soldiers and 1 German) were discovered in 2012 and 2013 and have since been buried in local military cemeteries. The most recent body, uncovered in July 2013, has been identified as that of Albert Dadure, a soldier from Normandy who died on 7th February 1915 aged 21. A team led by Eric Marchal bought the land 10 years ago to preserve this important historic site, which changed hands several times during the War. Opened in 2010, the team welcomes visitors and new members who wish to take part in the ongoing restoration work.

Another equally fascinating location is the German rest camp at the Vallée Moreau. Here trenches, tunnels and buildings have been restored by the Franco German Committee when work began in 1966. The rest camp designed to hold several hundred ‘off duty’ soldiers, is open Saturdays for visitors to experience the daily life of the troops. Started in 1915 the construction was supervised by a young junior officer called Rommel – the future WW2 Field Marshall. Visitors can walk through the trenches, underground shelters, see the power station, canteen and washrooms, a miniature railway, sleeping huts and consult maps and photos. Many such camps existed in the Argonne Forest, where around 200,000 soldiers died, and await discovery. Recently a German blockhouse hospital was found concealed in a hill side.

Other spots well worth a visit in Champagne-Ardenne include the Orientation Centre in Suippes. Here you will get a good understanding of the battles and discover the human side of the conflict with film, photos, documents and military objects. Using biometric terminals of fingerprints, visitors can follow the destiny of an assigned person involved in the war.

Near Reims is the Fort of La Pompelle built in 1880 as one of a ring of defence points for the city. During four years of heavy shelling during WW1, it was the only citadel around Reims to remain in the hands of the allied forces (French and Russian troops), thus maintaining the defence of the city. The museum houses an impressive display of artillery and a collection of over 500 Imperial German Army helmets that is unique in the world.  A complete renovation is underway and the fortress will be re-opened later this year.

The Russian church and cemetery at St -Hilaire-le-Grand is dedicated to the 4,000 Russian soldiers fallen in France during the Great War. Tsar Nicolas II sent over 4 infantry brigades of 44,000 men after the 1915 agreements with France, of which 2 brigades were stationed along the front line in Champagne. Built in the 15th century orthodox style, the chapel was inaugurated in May 1937 and the peaceful cemetery contains 915 bodies.

At Dormans, one of France’s four French national memorials looks out over the River Marne and vineyards. Completed in 1931, the towering monument commemorates the battles of the Marne in 1914 and 1918, both of which were supported by the British Army. The Allied victory in the Second Battle of the Marne was the turning point that was to lead to the end of the Great War. In the ossuary are the bones of 1,500 soldiers of whom just 11 were identified.

4 divisions of British and Commonwealth soldiers were deployed in the Aisne (Chemin des Dames) and the Marne. Between Dormans and Reims, the British cemetery at Marfaux contains the graves of 1,114 British soldiers and 15 New Zealanders. The cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The historic City of Reims in the Champagne-Ardenne Region makes an excellent base from which to explore the WW1 sites. It offers a wide choice of hotels and restaurants, has several museums, including the Second World War Surrender museum. The magnificent Gothic cathedral, where a long line of French Kings were crowned, is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, and many of the city’s prestigious Champagne Houses welcome visitors for tours and tastings. Reims can be reached by train from Paris in less than an hour but a car is essential for touring the battlefields and monuments. From the P&O ferry at Calais it’s a three-hour motorway drive to the city.

For information on the Champagne-Ardenne Region visit:

www. champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk

Trenches at Massiges email  maindemassiges@hotmail.fr

Camp at Vallee Moreau email tourisme@argonne.fr

Marne Information centre www.marne14-18.fr

Fort de la Pompelle.  www.ville-reims.fr

Issued on behalf of Champagne- Ardenne Regional Tourist Board.  See www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk

For further information please contact doug@douggoodmanpr.com  tel. 020 8614 1449.

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