Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Saturday, September 1

Our lazy morning are getting to be a delightful habit. We have breakfast about 10AM. Dick heads out to gas up the car....6.8 gallons after all the driving we did yesterday! He also stops at the little local grocery in Clermont for some more eggs and juice for tomorrow. Carolyn makes up some more tuna salad and does a few housekeeping chores while he is out. We head out about noon with our tuna salad sandwiches, Snickers and tiny coke cans. They sell a .333L can here that is just perfect for two Bourbon and coke or a coke with a sandwich. The small cokes in the states are some bigger.

We are going to stay close to home today....Dick has determined, from looking a multiple maps in various monuments and a book he has, that the front line on September 26, 1918 was right in front of our cottage along a small stream. This and our driving over the area repeatedly has given him a good feel for the geography of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in this area.

Butte de Vauguois is just to our East about two kilometers and was a major German strong point and observation point. They took it from the French early in the war without much resistance but then the French realized the significance of the height of the hill as an observation point and they fought relentlessly for the next two years to take it back. At first the fighting was on the surface through the ruins of the village of Vauguois which, 1914, stood on top of the hill and not below it as it does now.
Neither side being able to dislodge the other, the fighting changed to underground mining beginning in 1915.

We drive over and Dick walks up to the top. On top, all is reduced to huge craters and rubble. There is one sign that says that the town hall sat on this spot prior to the war. Now all you can see is a large crater with some foundation work sticking out of one side.

One of the mines of the Germans contained over 60 tons of explosives. The Lochnager Crater in the Somme contained only 30 tons. The continuous mining and counter mining with their resulting explosions reduced the height of the Butte de Vauquois by some twenty feet. It is quite a sight to see but, as usual, virtually all the signs are in French with some German so one needs to have French to get the full effect.

Leaving there, we head over to Butte de Montfaucon by way of Cheppy. All of these little villages, none of them seem to have over 100 people, were significant during the early days of the battle which started September 26, 1918. At Montfaucon is a very large pillar monument which stands 200 feet high and which can be seen for miles in all directions.
This is the Montfaucon American Memorial. When we arrive, there are two other people there, men speaking German. One can climb to the top for a view in all directions and see whey Montfaucon was so important to the Germans. The French had tried to take it several times over the previous three and a half years but the US forces took it in two days of heavy fighting. The only remnants of the village of Montfaucon from 1914 is part of the parish church which sits behind the memorial column.

The rest was totally destroyed in the fighting and shelling by the French. There are several concrete fortification structures visible in the woods but all are marked to keep out. Thisvillage was also rebuilt at the bottom of the hill after the war.

We now drive west and a little north through Epinionville, Gesnes-en-Argonne and Exermont to Chatel-Chehery for Dick to show Carolyn a distant view of the area in which Sgt. York won fame. Then, we drive on to Apremont and then to the site of the "Lost Battalion"
and on into Binarville. South of Binarville, we stop at a French Nicropole (French National Cemetery)

where Dick visits with a lady who is doing some research. She is reading through the list of dead in the cemetery. She lives in Les Islettes, 10k or so south. She may be a school teacher because she mentions bringing school children to the cemetery to get them to connect with the cost of the war. She also says that people from the south of France come to this area and are astounded by the number of cemeteries and the immediacy of the war even though it was over some 92 years ago.

We drop down into Foret de Lachalade, another area of heavy fighting
to see the Kaiser Tunnel but it is getting late and a sign indicates it is only open on Sundays. Perhaps another time. Even Dick is getting a little worn out with WWI and we are all looking forward to moving on to Paris on Tuesday. Tomorrow we will drive over to Reims and Epernay to see the cathedral and the champagne country.

Back at the cottage, we fix an early dinner of lamb chops and some Uncle Ben’s Rice dishes that Carolyn packed in from Texas. Dinner is over and we are cleaned up by 7:30PM and we spend the rest of the evening working on the blog and reading.

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