The Plateau de Californie
Sculpture de Haim Kern. ©la paisible GCCD - Source : Jalons pour l'Histoire sur le Chemin des Dames
The Plateau de Californie near l'Ailette is an important place of remembrance for the Great War
The Plateau de Californie, near l'Ailette in the Chemin des Dames region, is an important place of remembrance for the Great War, associated with the failed offensive of Nivelle in April 1917 and with the later mutinies. The site takes its name from an American saloon called "The California" created by Henry Vasnier before 1914. There was also a hotel there, a zoo and an exotic garden with American Indian plants, next to vines, agricultural land, market gardens and woodland. The 18th Infantry Regiment (I.R.) is closely linked to the fate of the place. In reserve at the time of the assault of the 16th April 1917, they became involved from the 4th May, when Craonne and the plateau de Californie were captured. During this fighting they were to lose 40% of their men. Traumatised, these men, then resting in Villers-sur-Fère, refused to return to the front on 27th May 1917, thus starting the first mutinies. Twelve soldiers were brought before the war council on the 7th June; five were sentenced to death for "armed revolt", of whom one was pardoned, another escaped and three were shot on the 12th June at Maizy. Craonne Hill is now classified as a red zone, in the same way as are another 18,000 hectares of land that was totally destroyed by the intensity of fighting, most of which has since been entrusted to the national Forestry Office. Pine trees have been planted there.
Forgotten until the 1990's, this spot has since been developed and has a panoramic viewpoint, orientation table, car park, signage and sign-posted pathways to the heart of what remains of the trenches and shell craters. Sculpture-the monument erected in memory of the soldiers of the 18th I.R. on an old German concrete bunker. This creation was a publicly funded commission by the department of culture and communication, in partnership with the General Council of the Aisne. It is by the sculptor Haim Kerner. Constructed in 1998 in memory of soldiers from all wars, this monument in horizon-blue coloured bronze is made up of heads, all identical, imprisoned behind barbed wire, symbolising the shackles of history with the inscription "They did not choose their burial place". It was inaugurated on the 5th November 1998 by the Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, on the 80th anniversary of the victory of 1918.
Plaque to the 18th I.R. This plaque dedicated to the 18th I.R. is situated on the far eastern edge of the plateau de Californie.. It was built in 1927 on top of an old German concrete bunker and bears the dedication: "To the glory of the 18th Regiment (Béarn - Basque Country - Gascony), an elite regiment whose duty was to capture the plateau of Craonne, a position that had been judged impregnable, and who scaled it with magnificent spirit. Mentioned in despatches - 4th -5th May 1917".