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Brian Pohanka
The Western Front:
- Belloy-en-Santerre
- Flaucourt, Bray, Albert
- Y-Sap, Lochnager
   Craters

- Memorials, Thiepval
- Ulster Tower,
   Beaumont

- The Somme
- The Fallen Soldier
- Mametz Wood
- Delville Wood, High
   Wood

- Newfoundland Park
- Hawthorne Crater
- Arras
- Proyart, Chevauchee
- Mort Homme, Fort
   Vaux

- Verdun

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Visit to the Western Front
Part 13: Proyart, Chevauchee

By Brian Pohanka - November 1, 1999

This brief sketch was originally posted at a Civil War discussion group site and is reprinted here with the author's permission.

On the morning of October 8 we checked out of our hotel in Albert, and said good-bye to the Somme. We had reservations for the next three nights in Verdun. Under rather gray and drizzly skies we headed first south, then east toward that town whose name is so tragically synonymous with the pain and carnage of The Great War.

Before reaching the main East-West highway, or Autoroute, we passed through the village of Proyart, which has one of the most imposing town memorials we'd yet seen to the 1914-1918 conflict. A 40-foot-high replica of the Arch de Triomphe, with a heroic statue of a French soldier (a Poilu) at the center, various memorial plaques, a miniature cannon, bronze motifs of the Croix de Guerre medal, a Poilu helmet, and so on. Across the street was a brick building that had survived the War -- its wall was clearly pockmarked with bullet and shell damage.

We made very good time on the Autoroute, passing through Reims (the Cathedral City we'd visited the year before on our Zouave tour), and on eastward toward Verdun. Without any stops along the way I would think it a two-and-a-half to three hour trip. None of these sites are really all that far apart. But we wanted to get off the highway and visit a site I'd read about, in the Southern portion of the Argonne Forest, north of the town of Les Islettes (about 40 minutes travel time west of Verdun).

Running through the forest, atop a ridgeline, is a narrow road called La Haute Chevauchee. It is in places gravel or packed earth, and while at times barely wide enough for two cars to pass one another, it is well maintained. This headed north, toward the opposing fronts of the French and German armies for three years of war. And all along it was striking evidence of the combats that transpired there.

This is a "National Forest" and it is odd to see picnic tables, alongside the Chevauchee, right amidst some of the most cratered and battle-torn ground I'd seen on the Western Front. It was still overcast and drizzling, and there were very few people to be seen. As we drove along the narrow road, through the dark pine forest, we may have seen four other cars and possibly the same number of people. That was it. We visited the French military cemetery at Lachalade and as was almost always the case on this trip, Cricket and I were the only people there. The same thing at the large monument to the French soldiers who died in the Argonne, and beneath which is an Ossuaire (Ossuary) with the bones of several thousands of dead.

We walked off into the woods -- dark, sombre woods -- large pines -- the needles carpeted the completely un-heaved, cratered forest floor. So quiet! Here was a heap of earth that must have been a dugout; there a zig-zagging trench that gave way to an overlay of craters, some at least as deep as I am tall. In places loggers have cut roads through the forest, in order to harvest the trees that have grown up since the war (when the woods were essentially leveled by the shelling). In the mud beside one of these logging tracks I found a section of a shell that was aobut a foot tall -- the side of a shell that had been blown out -- and I carried it back to car wondering how I'd get it back home. This one was "harmless" as it was only a fragment (albeit a big one) so Cricket did not protest!

At the end of the Chavauchee we came to a slightly larger paved road that heads northeast toward Varennes. But before heading in that direction (and from there south to Verdun) I wanted to walk back into the woods and find the "Abri du Kronprinz" -- that is "The Shelter of the Crown Prince." We managed to drive down a muddy track to near its end, where we got out and walked over to a substantial concrete bunker complex.

This was where Kronprinz Wilhelm -- the son of the Kaiser -- set up one of his headquarters. He was one of the German Army Commanders in the Verdun/Argonne sector. Around the central structure was a system of trenches connecting to other commodious concrete bunkers -- no doubt for the subordinate officers, the staff, and so forth. That these have survived in what amounts to very good condition testifies to the German penchant for building shelters that were much more sophisticated than those the Allies generally built. No one was about, the rain was falling harder, it was damp, dark and rather spooky as we walked around the complex.

And then it was time to get back aboard the Citroen and continue toward Varennes, and Verdun.

red poppy by DLO

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