Chemin des Dames, Aisne

The Chemin des Dames is a road that runs atop a ridge in the plain that stretches from Soissons to Reims.  It was a bitterly contested part of the western front in 1914-18 war and is as famous to the French as Ypres and Passchendaele are to the British.  Our visit over the Remembrance day weekend was particularly poignant.

Arboretum Craonne5The old village of Craonne lay just below the end point of the ridge with its view over the  plain.  During the fighting for this key strategic point, the village was completely destroyed.  The inhabitants were evacuated by the occupying Germans after having sheltered in their cellars during the initial invasion.  Today nothing remains of the village except the mounds of the ruins, some cobbled roads and isolated cellar entrances.
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Craonne July 1917The village of Craonne in July 1917.
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Arboretum Craonne4In the 1930’s an arboretum was planted on the ruins of the old village and today the mounds and shell holes are covered in a woodland rich in specimen trees.
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Arboretum Craonne

Arboretum Craonne2

Craonne before the warThis picture towards the Presbytery gate, at the top of the street, was taken just before the war.
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Arboretum Craonne3This is the same view today.
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Autumn leaves…….

Clematis vitalbaThe ruins are now covered in a rich ground cover of native plants including this old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba).
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Juglens regiaThese recently planted Walnut trees (probably Juglans regia) have a sign before them which reads “The walnut tree was used to make the stocks for rifles”.
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Craonne viewing platformAt the top of the ridge, a viewing platform has recently been built giving fantastic views across the plain to Reims and beyond.  It becomes evident why this ridge was so strategically important.
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View Craonne3La Chanson de Craonne is a well-known anti-military song sung by the soldiers who mutinied in 1917.  This mutiny was widespread and was caused by the terrible conditions in the trenches and what was seen as terrible loss of life for very little military gain.
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View CraonneA rainbow over the valley.
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View Craonne2…….

Sunset cemeteryThe main fighting on the Chemin des Dames was between the French and German armies, however there were British troops fighting in the area.  The cemetery at Vendresse-Beaulne is beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  The tombstones are set in flowerbeds containing roses, asters, sedums, heuchera, dianthus, festuca glauca and other ground-cover plants.  The British cemeteries were designed by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens who worked closely with Gertrude Jekyll, whose devotion to traditional cottage garden plants and roses greatly influenced the appearance of the cemeteries.
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Tombstones…….

Unknown soldier Of the 700 graves in this cemetery, over half are those of unknown soldiers.
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Tombstones

Tombstones……..

IrisA single late iris braved the cold November wind.
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Setting sun 2“At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
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Practical Information

The Chemin des Dames runs between the route N2 (starting half way between Soissons and Laon) and the village of Corbeny.  It is about an hour an a half drive from central Paris.  We also visited the museum of the Caverne du Dragon, a stone quarry used as an underground shelter by both sides.  On the chiselled stone ceiling one soldier drew a tree in candle smoke.  There are also French and German cemeteries along the route dating from both world wars.  The cathedral in the medieval quarter of Laon is also worth visiting with smiling carved stone cows and other animals on the facade.

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