The Bayonet Trench
Croix de la tranchée. ©MINDEF/SGA/DMPA
1916 - 57 French soldiers die underground after a bomb attack near Douaumont
On 8 December 1920, Alexandre Millerand, the President of the Republic, unveiled an imposing concrete monument in the forest at Morchée. Designed by the architect A. Ventre, it houses the graves of seven unknown French infantrymen who died in 1916. The metallic door into this covered "trench" is the work of wrought-iron craftsman Edgard Brandt, who went on to create the bronze burner for the flame on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in 1923. Throughout the 1920s, the Registrar of War Graves and Births, Deaths and Marriages of the sixth military region dug up and exhumed this site, a locus of remembrance for the former members of the 137th Infantry Regiment who fought here. 21 Frenchmen were found, amongst them an unknown lieutenant. Not one of them was standing, rifle in hand, and the rusty guns on the ground served only to indicate the dead buried by the enemy in a shallow alleyway. The discovery of these disarmed bodies lying on the ground invalidated the myth of a still standing regiment buried alive by an aerial attack, a myth that several former soldiers from the 137th had themselves denied, but which somehow lives on, even to this day. 14 of these 21 bodies were identified and buried in the military cemetery at Fleury, and when that site became disused were buried together in the national necropolis at Douaumont. The seven remaining bodies were re-interred in the "trench," and, since their original arms had been taken during a raid, rifle carcasses and bayonets with broken blades were placed next to wooden Latin crosses.
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