Sunday, August 2, 2015

Trenches in the Vosges Mountains

Along the French German border of Alsace in the Vosges Mountains, the trench lines from the Great  War, 1914-1918, remain as a memorial to the fallen. The fiercest battles occurred early and most intensely during the first eighteen months of the war before settling into a dead heat. We visited two different trench areas, the Hartmannswillerkopf site (HWK) also known as Vieil Armand and The Musee Memorial du Linge at Orbey (Haut-Rhin).

A walk along the trenches or a look through sights that soldiers once used develops an appreciation for the proximity of the lines, mere feet from each other, and the difficult conditions in which the soldiers endured on the mountains that ate 30,000 men. Crosses line marked graves. Ossuaries contain the bones of both the French and the German soldiers. Signs that warn visitors of ordinance hazards add an element of reality, but the most menacing sights remaining include shriveled hunks of metal and rusting rolls of barbed wire. 

The inflow of bullets, mud, and blood are no more, but the impact of long ago explosions on the landscape can still be seen in overgrown bombed out craters. Charred, denuded mountain sides of wartime have regrown and filled in over the past one hundred years with the larger trees and hardwoods that once provided the raw materials for the trench scaffolding and fires.  As the flowers dance on gentle breezes, trees shade the sun's intense rays, and roots hold the once muddy soil in place, an awareness of violence and yet, a sense of peace permeates both sites. A monument at HNK honors the fallen of both sides and the museum at the other tells more of the story, but at both locations, the bucolic natural setting counterbalances the gristly history of combat on the front line trenches of the Great War and stands as a place to honor the hard earned friendship between France and Germany.  

Trenches of WW1 Vosges Mountains
Coiled barbed wire in the Vosges Mountains
Danger Explosifs
View from a trench
HNK cemetery

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