Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Why Does Craonne Have Its Own Song?

Good-bye to life, good-bye to love, Good-bye to all the women, It's all over now, we've had it for good With this awful war. It's in Craonne up on the plateau That we're leaving our skins, 'Cause we've all been sentenced to die. We're the ones that they're sacrificing.
Song of Craonne, 1917

Craonne, May 1917

The ancient village of Craonne was located on the slope just below the Chemin des Dames. By 1914 it had already gained mention in history books as the site of a victory by Napoleon during his 1814 campaign. In September of 1914, in the aftermath of the Battle of the Marne, the village was the scene of fighting between the retreating German Army and the pursuing French. There were a number of the 600 villagers killed in the action after taking refuge in Craonne's cellars.

Site of Village Church

Subsequently, the village was evacuated and the Germans used it as an outpost after recapturing the site in early 1915. In the artillery prelude to  the 1917 Nivelle Offensive, French artillery effectively leveled the village. It then became the site of ferocious fighting in the opening of the battle on 16 April 1917. The attacking French 2nd Division lost half its strength that morning. There were similar disasters during the failed Nivelle operation, but – possibly because of its Napoleonic association – the name "Craonne" registered and was remembered by the embittered Poilus, who soon after began organized disobedience to their officers. The lyrics of a protest song sung by grumbling soldiers in the trenches that had been around since the winter of 1914/15, was adjusted to feature Craonne. It was subsequently adopted by the mutineers as their anthem and later universally by pacifists worldwide. It is powerfully moving even in the 21st century. 

Memorial to the Fallen of Craonne

After the war, a new village by the same name was built a half-mile to the south. The original village of Craonne was first classified a prohibited area, then handed over to the French Forestry Service, which turned it into an arboretum featuring dozens of different trees. A war memorial was also placed on the site near the former village church of St. Martin. Today Craonne retains the haunted feeling of such other tragic spots on the Western Front as Mort Homme and Hill 60.

Contemporary photos by our resident documentarian, Steve Miller.

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