The Blue Line – the Vosges frontier 1871 to 1914

The frontier separating Alsace from France before the Great War


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Beyond bitter: winter on the Vosges Front

(Reblogged from my other blog, Shot Silk).

Shot Silk

The Front in the Vosges stabilised in the autumn of 1914. Joffre assured the Alsaciens that, “Notre retour est définitif.  Je suis le France, vous êtes l’Alsace.  Je vous apport le baiser de la France.” The French took key points in the mountains: the summit of le Voilu, la Tête des Faux, Hartmannswillerkopf. The village of Steinbach was won back house by house. The aftermath was utter desolation.

Winter was coming.

Vosges Troupes montant aux lignes

In January 1915, the Germans launched ferocious attacks and by February, they were occupying the peaceful village of Metzeral by the River Fecht. Within a week, they had taken Reichackerkopf*, then the villages of Hohrod, Hohrodberg, Stosswihr. The weather was atrocious. Snow fell relentlessly. It was bitterly, utterly cold. When the attack ceased towards the end of February, the French had lost over one and a half thousand men, either wounded, killed or taken prisoner.

It took until mid-summer, after the…

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Haicot – an altered Great War monument

In the forest high above the Col de Bagenelles is a beautiful mosaic created by German soldiers in the Great War. Its text identifies the creators as Landsturm Friedberg and it depicts a proud, growling crowned lion bearing a sword. It is the Hessian Lion – Btl Friedberg was a Hessian unit.

Haicot lion compressed

(The edge blur is because the precious mosaic is protected by a shelter.)

In the woods in front of the mosaic it’s easy to pick out vestiges of trenches. Walking on, eventually the path curves round the flank of the mountainside and unexpectedly you come to a small grotto which contains a monument inscribed to  2. Landsturm Infanterie Batallion 2 “Bonn” part of Landsturm VIII. Armee-Korps / Coblenz. In 1918 it became 2nd Btl, of Landsturm Infanterie Regiment 48. (Thank you to Rob Schaefer @GERArmyResearch for the assistance in deciphering this and for the information about Btl Friedberg.)

I photographed the monument in 2013 :

Haicot Bonn monument 1 compressed

The 1920s postcard below shows the grotto; and adjacent to it is a projecting structure which I believe to be part of the German position at Haicot (alternatively spelt Haycot).

Haycot l'abri

This (below) is the monument in 2013…

Haicot Bonn monument 2 compressed (my photo)

… and this (below) is a postcard photograph of it taken after the Second World War. The monument has been adapted to memorialise members of les Amis de la Nature who died in 1944. A close comparison of the ‘now’ photograph shows the holes where the Second World War memorial plaque was screwed in over the top of the original.

Haycot memorial

I have read elsewhere that l’Auberge du Haycot has been built on a German structure. While I do not know whether this is true or not, I believe that the author is mistaken.  Close to the Bonn monument is the Refuge de les Amis de la Nature Haycot, one of several refuges for walkers in the Vosges. (My photo, below, 2013) The owner of l’Auberge du Haycot told me that the refuge, not the Auberge, is the historic building.

Haicot refuge compressed

There was undoubtedly a German position at Haicot, shown in these two postcards from immediately after the First World War.

Haycot le Front des Vosges Abri Haycot

(Above. The  structure projecting over the slope ties in with that just visible in the early postcard showing the grotto: 331 Le Front des Vosges. 3rd picture from top, above.)

Haycot Positions allemandes du Haycot posted 1923

IMG_4507 (June 2014)

I am convinced that the ground floor of the current refuge is the same building as the ground floor of the premises shown in the postcards. The windows and doors match and there is early corrugated iron embedded into the wall. The landscape falls in the same way, steeply down the mountainside.

Provided that one isn’t attempting to walk to here from the Col de Bagenelles (a steep walk) and instead drives up and parks near l’Auberge du Haycot, this is an easy and rewarding walk in an important but less visited area of the early Front.

Haicot setting compressed

(My photographs and my postcards. Please don’t borrow them without asking.)

Rob Schaefer’s blog is http://gottmituns.net/ – very much worth visiting.


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Jehanne d’Arc

On 30th May 1431 a young peasant girl from Domrémy in the Vosges was burned alive after an illegal trial for heresy in Rouen. During the period in which Alsace and Lorraine were annexed to the German Empire, she became a powerful symbol of resistance, of defiance, of eagerness for liberation.

Jeanne Ballon

The statue on the Ballon d’Alsace – on the French side of the hated border – of Jeanne d’Arc is still defiantly facing Germany, deliberately positioned to show that Alsace and Lorraine challenge their annexation. It was sculpted in 1909 by Mathurin and features in many postcards of the era; this one is typical and the text draws attention to the patriotic crowds at the inauguration.

Ballon d'Alsace statue de Jeanne d'arc

The inspirational figure of Jeanne is a recurrent theme in monuments and memorials after the oppression was lifted. Many Alsacien men were forced to fight for Germany, although it has to be remembered that anyone under the age of 43 when war was declared in 1914 had not known life as a French citizen and many were to all intents and purposes fully fledged Germans. Nevertheless, the theme of a young man being forced to fight for the oppressor is a powerful one and many patriotic images depict the despair of the young soldier and his family.

The mother depicted on the war memorial at Guebwiller pins a small rosette on her son’s chest under his jacket and tells him, “Remember you are French.” These rosettes were red, white and blue (the colours of the French flag). The memorial at Rosheim [below] shows a French poilu offering the open hand of friendship to a young man who has opened his jacket to reveal the patriotic rosette over his heart; his enforced pickelhaube has been discarded at his feet and Jeanne embraces the two in a gesture which emphasises the harmony and unity restored between France and her lost départements.

Rosheim Jeanne

The inspiration of Jeanne in times of oppression and war is reflected in her use in cemeteries. The village and community of Plaine, north of Saales, suffered dreadfully in the raging combats of 1914 as each side fought to gain control of the essential cols and the front moved rapidly. Jeanne was erected in this cemetery on 12th August 1923. The base of the statue says, “À eux l’immortalité, à nous le souvenir.”

Plaine cimetière militaire

In 2012. (There are British aviators and Muslim casualties among the graves.)

Plaine Jeanne

Menil-sur-Belvitte is a large 1917 nécropole nationale south of Baccarat and it is the resting place of a thousand men, many casualties from the Bataille de la Mortagne (1914) and the ghastly fighting at Col de la Chipote. Opposite the cemetery, peacefully surrounded by pastures with the characteristic Vosgienne cows, is a memorial privately erected in 1927 by l’Abbé Collé, the village curé. He also established a small commemorative museum which was destroyed by German troops in 1944.

Menil Jeanne

The essential figures on this memorial are in gold; one is Jeanne (“custos patriae”) at the pinnacle and the others (in what seems like slightly toned down gold) are the brave heroes of the 13th, 14th  15th  and 21st Corps d’Armée 1914.

Jeanne Menil Jeanne 2

It is a memorial of unexpected height and power; the loyal Chasseur figures, bravely ready for any challenger and in death cared for by a despairing figure of Mary, demand attention. Jeanne’s immense elevation, her raised cruciform sword and her striking gold armour communicate as a symbol of defiance and inner strength even today. Your eye is drawn upwards from the brave soldiers to their alleged inspiration as they fought to regain Alsace and Moselle for France.

Note. Published to mark the feast day of Ste Jeanne d’Arc, 30th May 2013.

More interesting material on Jehanne here: http://www.maidofheaven.com/ and http://mrssymbols.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/arms-and-maiden.html