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

Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Dramatic Preserved Battlefield at La Fontenelle in the Vosges

Aerial View of the Cemetery

Necropole Nationale de Ban de Sapt—La Fontenelle is a French First World War military cemetery located at Hill 627 on the territory of the commune of Ban-de-Sapt in the Vosges department. Roughly mid-way between Nancy and Strasbourg, it is the site of a remarkable memorial and the surrounding former battlefield  has been restored as an exceptional outdoor museum.  The complex—according to its French Wikipedia  page—has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Location of La Fontenelle

Entrance to the Preserved Battlefield — Note Numerous Information Kiosks

It was on the hill at La Fontenelle, a school garden before the war, that the front was established on 12 September 1914. The French forces occupied the summit, at contour line 627. The Germans dug in firmly on its Eastern flank, constructing powerful trenches from which attacks were then regularly launched. On 23 June 1915, with the help of the explosions of underground mines and the reinforcement of  heavy artillery, the Germans inflicted a severe defeat on the French by reaching the summit. However, on 8 and 23 July of the same year, two violent counterattacks saw the French troops regain a foothold on the hill.  Over 1,500 German prisoners were taken that month. 

Men of the 28th R.I. Who Fought in the Critical
Actions of July 1915

Early Stage of the Cemetery Construction

After 25 July, mine warfare raged while periodic raids replaced frontal attacks in the trenches. Despite the determination of the Germans, the heights of La Fontenelle remained in French hands for the Remaining war. In the 1920s French fallen were gathered from several nearby temporary cemeteries and re-interred in the current cemetery on the crest of the hill. The German dead from the fighting were brought together at the nearby cemetery at Senones.



In 1925, a monument   to the memory of the French combatants of 1915 was inaugurated near the cemetery that hosts to the remains of 2,348 French soldiers. The pink limestone work features  France's equivalent  to Lady Liberty, Marianne, with the inscription "TO THE VIGILANT DEFENDERS OF THE VOSGIAN SOIL" , and—on the opposite side—a French Solider with "TO THE GREAT SOLDIERS OF THE VOSGES". The artist, Émile Bachelet,  fought with the French Army nearby during the war. 

Preserved Inner Shell of Observer Post

Before and After Shelter in Sittler Trench

Sources: Lorraine Tourism; Google Maps:

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