to the Western Front
Part 1: Belloy-en-Santerre and NW
Brian Pohanka - October 20, 1999
brief sketch was originally posted at a Civil War discussion
group site and is reprinted here with the author's permission.
rented our car in Paris, and tired as we were, it being
early in the day, got on the Autoroute and drove north,
getting some strong coffee en route. Got off at Belloy-en-Santerre,
the town where American poet Alan
Seeger was killed on July 4, 1916 while serving with
the Foreign Legion. Like many of the farm towns, this
one was nearly deserted when we drove in and parked in
front of the church that has a bell in the steeple, donated
by Seeger's parents. His name appears on the war memorial
-- almost all those towns, big or small has one -- his
body was never found (he was cut down with many others
in the flat open field just southwest of Belloy). An older
man was tending the monument, and I explained to him,
in French, that I was going to read Seeger's poem "I
Have a Rendezvous with Death," and also place
a small photo of Seeger (Xerox in a plastic sleeve) there
in his honor. The man took off his cap and stood by with
head bowed as I read the poem. He then suggested that
since the little image would blow away in a wind, he would
take me to the Mairie (Mayor's Office) and introduce
me. This he did, and the Mayor's assistant accepted the
image and placed it with the framed copy of "Rendezvous"
that was hanging on the wall. The Mairie also doubled
as a day care center for about a dozen kids. That was
the start of our WWI excursion. Next on the agenda was
the site where von Richthofen was shot down -- this as
we headed northwest toward our base of operations for
the Somme sector, at Albert.
Armed with Xeroxes from the the book The Red Baron's
Last Flight, we found the spot where he was brought
down -- first locating the brickworks that stood there
in 1918 and still do -- though in a derelict condition.
It was across the country road in front of the brickworks
that the famous red triplane came to rest against a pile
of beets -- as evidenced in the aerial photos of that
time. The field today was furrowed and recently harvested,
also quite muddy, but I dutifully walked out to about
the spot that the "Red Baron" came to earth.
The best indication is that an Australian machine gunner,
not pilot Roy Brown, accounted for the famous Ace -- i.e.
he was struck by groundfire. He was flying low, and just
about any Aussie with a rifle or firearm of any kind was
blazing away, and we can never know with certainty which
individual fired the fatal bullet -- though Sgt. Cedric
C. Popkin seems the most likely candidate. Like so many
sites on the Western Front, this spot is not marked or
memorialized -- but armed with the period photos and maps
it is possible to locate with pretty good certainty, even
to within a few yards.