Destroyed village of Fleury-devant-Douaumont

Des bornes marquent les emplacements des maisons détruites. Source : dansmabonjotte.canalblog

The Germans took Fleury after capturing Vaux Fort in June 1916. The village changed hands 16 times. Two months of fierce fighting reduced the community to a pile of rubble.

In 1913, the Meuse directory gave the following information: 422 inhabitants Innkeepers: Mssrs. Body, Hubert, Simon Baker-confectioner: Mr. Hubert Carpenter, cartwright, cabinetmaker: M. Simon Shoemaker: Mr. Legay L. Seamstresses-pressers: Mrs. Legay A. (widow), Legay A., Misses Lamorlette M. Gorgen L. Grocers-haberdashers: Mssrs. Body, Hubert Builder: Mr. Simon N. Foundry owner-tinsmith: Mr. Mangin Masons: Mssrs. Ligony C, Legay AI., Ligony A., Pédotti, Tardivat Blacksmith: Mr. Lahaye T. Bread seller: Mr. Body Works inspector: Mr. Tardivat Tobacconist: Mr. Body Land-owning farmers: Mssrs. Body J.B., Lamorlette-Louis J.M., Legay F.J., Poncet-Limouzin N., Poncet-Olivier F., Simon R. Poudrière and Vignes-Le Morpion Ravines Fleury-devant-Douaumont led a peaceful, hardworking existence until the Great War. From time immemorial, the days and labours advanced to the rhythm of the seasons, with the alternation of sowing and reaping, logging and grape-harvesting, years of dearth and of prosperity. The invasions of 1792, 1814 and 1870 bypassed these wooded hills where wolves still roamed. Time seemed to have stood still at Fleury-devant-Douaumont but suddenly sped up after 1870. The narrow-gauge Verdun-Douaumont railroad went through the village. Then the construction of the Souville redoubt, Tavannes and Froidelerre forts, and intermediary works filled the streets with crowds of workers and soldiers. In August 1914, the 400 inhabitants watched the regiments from file past as they marched to La Woëvre plain. In September, the Battle of the Marne established the front a few kilometres north and northeast of the village. In 1915, Fleury-devant-Douaumont, still undamaged and overflowing with troops, was part of the fortified region of Verdun.

1916 On 21 February 1916, Fleury-devant-Douaumont was awakened by the bombardment preparing the German assault. It was snowing. The horizon was on fire. News was scarce and contradictory. The order was given to evacuate the village. The inhabitants piled into carts, rounded up their livestock and travelled down towards Bras-sur-Meuse and Verdun, passing reinforcements rushing to the line of fire moving in the opposite direction. On 24 February, Douaumont Fort fell, putting Fleury-devant-Douaumont within the Germans' sight. Shelling tore holes in the roofs as trenches and shelters turned cellars into pockets of resistance. The destruction of Fleury-devant-Douaumont seemed never-ending. In May, only outlines of smoking rubble remained. On 7 June, the loss of Vaux Fort put the village on the front lines. Fleury-devant-Douaumont stood at the head of the Poudrière and Vignes Ravines between Froideterre and Souville, making it a key of the battle. By taking this position, the Germans would be able to break through and secure the gateway to Verdun. The agony of Fleury-devant-Douaumont began. The tragedy dragged on for weeks from June to August 1916, when the Germans launched their last, fierce offences on the Froideterre-Souville front. Fleury-devant-Douaumont changed hands 16 times during the battle. On 23 June, thousands of shells, some containing poison gas, rained down before the Kronprinz's best troops, Bavarians and the Alpenkorps, poured into the village. The 121st Light Infantry Battalion was sacrificed to slow down the relentless push. It was wiped out by sundown, but replaced by the 260th brigade. One fierce assault followed another on these few hectares. The Germans took Fleury-devant-Douaumont on 23 June and the French took it back on the 24th, then lost it again; the Germans re-occupied the village the next day and lost it again. On the 27th, a battalion of the 241st Infantry Regiment clung to the southern edge and prevented the Germans from entering. On 11 July, the enemy made a supreme push and, in the acrid dust of explosions, attacked with flame-throwers and took La Poudrière, which was defended by two battalions of the 255th brigade commanded by Colonel Coquelin de Lisle.
A few men even managed to reach "D centre", which the Germans called "the crab" because of the way it looked in aerial pictures. Then they withdrew with a few prisoners. This terraced work, which is still visible on the ground today, marks the spot of the Germans' furthest advance towards Verdun. The powder magazine, which the Germans called "Mr. Raum" (munitions shelter), was built before the war at the same as the entrenched camp of Verdun. It was used as an advanced artillery munitions dump to more quickly supply the field and fortress batteries between Douaumont, Thiaumont, Froideterre and Fleury-devant-Douaumont as well as some secondary munitions dumps linked to each other by a 60-cm track. It was a shelter hewn into solid rock approximately 10 metres underground with two entrances. Inside, the outlines of the 60-cm track and turntable that ensured the flow of munitions until the battle's outbreak can still be seen. A large room in the rear served as a first-aid station. The remains of the former guardhouse, where Colonel Coquelin de Lisle was killed on 11 July 1916, are at the entrance along the trail from the Fleury-devant-Douaumont powder magazine. The grave of the corporal and machine-gunner Rachel, who was killed on the same day, lies 200 metres to the south-southwest. From 13 July to 5 August, fierce fighting continued around the village ruins, which was swallowed up in the chaos of the battlefield. On 17 and 18 August, the Colonial Infantry Regiment of Morocco, which had been fighting in the ruins for 10 days, went on the attack singing the Marseillaise and definitively took back the village. In October and November, the position of Fleury-devant-Douaumont was the base of the offensives that retook Douaumont and Vaux.
After the war In 1918, Fleury-devant-Douaumont was declared a village that "Died for France". Like eight other villages on the Verdun front, the grateful nation preserved its juridical personality. Fleury-devant-Douaumont has a mayor; Fleury-devant-Douaumont has its faithful; Fleury-devant-Douaumont lives again. The Association Nationale du Souvenir de la Bataille de Verdun (National Association of Remembrance of the Battle of Verdun) and Office National des Forêts (National Forestry Office) cleared the outlines of its streets and houses. Visitors can see farms, the forge, the school, the church and the fountain where water and laughter once gushed. Since 1979, Notre Dame de l'Europe has appealed for peace and brotherhood on the façade of the votive chapel. Everybody who comes to this place bows before the sacrifice and misery of the two foes, who are reconciled today. The Memorial, which was built on the site of the Fleury-devant-Douaumont train station, is devoted to the Battle of Verdun. Pictures, frescoes, documents, objects, weapons, equipment, uniforms and French and German planes tell the story of this tragic battle, giving visitors some idea of the suffering and hardship endured by the men who fought it.

  • Vignes Ravine. Photo JP le Padellec

  • Notre-Dame de l'Europe chapel was built after the war on the site of the former village church. Photo JP le Padellec 

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