Comments Contributed by Elspeth Johnstone
The lost village of Vauquois in the Argonne (Le village disparu) is a testament to the enormity and ferocity of a unique underground struggle of the 1914–1918 war. There are other lost villages in France: Hurlus, Ripont, and Tahure on the Champagne battlefields, and the villages of Verdun that were destroyed and left little evidence of where they once stood. Other areas were mined — the Somme, Vimy, and the Argonne Forest — but it is only at Vauquois that you find surviving evidence of extreme mine warfare that continued below ground well after the village was obliterated, and when there was little hope of a breakthrough on the surface from the infantry of either side.
The Butte de Vauquois, where this tiny village once stood, is now just a mass of craters and tunnel entrances. But in 1914 this small hill 290 meters above sea level, with the Argonne massif to the west and Mort Homme to the east, was hotly contested by the Germans and French. It provided a superb observation point for road and rail traffic from the Islettes pass, and therefore, eventually, all movement to and from Verdun.
Over the next four years the sappers of both sides exploded an unbelievable 519 mines under Vauquois. What had been a small hill-top village with a population of 168 was a series of mine craters 10–20 meters deep separating the French and German front lines. The ground had become the grave to 8,000 missing French and German dead. There was no sign of the church or school that had crowned the crest of the hill — all had been swallowed up by the ground beneath.