The Blue Line – the Vosges frontier 1871 to 1914

The frontier separating Alsace from France before the Great War


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L’église de l’Emm, Mémorial de la Première Guerre mondiale: a post for 11th, 11th, 2014.

La Chapelle d’Emm, Metzeral – a memorial to those who died in the Vosges

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L’église de l’Emm takes its name from Emma, niece of Charlemagne, who founded a hermitage on this colline near Metzeral in memory of her fiancé, Roland de Roncevaux, in the fifteenth century. Through the next five centuries, the original chapel was variously destroyed, rebuilt, rededicated, refounded and eventually wrecked in the Battle of Metzeral (15th – 21st June, 1915).

00 Metzeral Chapelle Emm

After the war, the ancient chapel stood in ruins. Curate Martin Behe arrived in the Fecht valley in 1921 and was deeply affected by the damaged valley, dreadfully scarred by warfare and the resting places for thousands of French soldiers, some in the cemeteries and some lost possibly forever in the mountainous landscape of the Vosges. He urged the construction of a memorial.

The colline was designated as the site for a church consecrated to the memory of the soldiers who fell in the Vosges, particularly those who died in the battle for Metzeral and who still lie in the Vosges. It was to be a focus for families to remember their husbands, their fathers, their sons, their neighbours, and people were encouraged to contribute. The site of the old chapel was chosen and a new church was built as église-mémorial de l’Emm. It is an expression of mourning and of gratitude by the people of Alsace.

The project was overseen by a committee under the banner Souvenir Alsacien, which included the bishop of Strasbourg and General Pouydraguin. Fundraising took place across France and abroad. The builders used local red sandstone (the same as was used for the cathedral in Strasbourg) and prominent on the façade is the inscription expressing the gratitude of Alsace: “À nos vaillants soldats, l’Alsace reconnaissante”.

26 A nos vaillants 2014

The building was finally dedicated on October 4th, 1931 and the bells were dedicated nine months later in July 1932. I believe the bell tower contains four bells. One is intended to evoke the majestic sound of the bell in the ossuary at Douaument.

Inside, the walls are lined with 1.80m high marble panels, each engraved with the names of the soldiers who died in the battle for Metzeral. Stained glass windows throw their saturated light on to the light marble. It is a profoundly peaceful place which encourages reflection. One window depicts a chaplain ministering to a dying comrade among the debris and flashing lights of the battlefield. It is called, simply, ‘Nos morts’.

16a Emm poilus closeup

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Note 1: The Battle of Metzeral (1915)

Metzeral is 6.5 km west of Munster, in the valley of the river Fecht. Control of the valley was important for both sides and military operations took place there early in 1915, coinciding with the intense fighting at Hartmannswillerkopf. The battle for Metzeral in June 1915 tends to be overshadowed by the bitter struggle for Hartmannswillerkopf and (beginning just one month later) the fierce battle at le Linge, but it was important and deadly.

The combined forces of Major General Pouydraguin (47th Division) and General Serret (66th division) were deployed to remove the enemy from the upper valley of the Fecht. Initially they were unsuccessful and the two generals decided to carry out a major assault.

The populations of the villages or Metzeral and Sondernach were evacuated on June 9th and the attack began on June 15th. The main action took place on 20th and 21st June, with heavy fighting street by street, building by building, hand against hand, bayonet against bayonet. The village was ruined beyond recognition, the tranquil river valley destroyed. By the 24th June, the French had secured Metzeral but the human cost was devastating. The French cemeteries of Chêne Millet and Sondernach, the German cemetery of Breitenbach, are witness to the losses in the valley of the Fecht.

Note 2:

I have photographed all the panels, but I have not transcribed them. All the names can be found here: http://www.amisdelemm.fr/images/sampledata/Documents/plaques_votives.pdf

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Tour de France, Stage 10: July 14th 2014. A view through old postcards

The second day of the Tour de France in the beautiful Vosges includes some of the towns and villages which suffered terrible destruction in the Great War. It climbs to altitudes where domination was vital for observation and defence in the challenging conditions of mountain warfare.

Mulhouse

Two postcards, one showing the famous Hotel de Ville and the other the Monument aux Morts (posted 1930).

01 Mulhouse hotel de ville

02 Mulhouse monument aux morts posted 1930

Ensisheim

Behind l’hôtel de la Régence is an intriguing war memorial commemorating Ensisheim 1675 – 1975. It depicts Turenne’s victory at Turckheim in 1675, saving Alsace from the Imperial army, and the American troops who liberated Alsace and the village in 1945. There is a plaque recording the names of villagers who were deported to concentration camps.

03 Ensisheim S of Guebwiller
Ensisheim WW2

Westhalten

Like many in Alsace, Westhalten’s war memorial depicts the mourning of woman and children.

Westhalten

Soultzmatt

La Cimetière roumain, Soultzmatt, is the resting place of 678 Romanian soldiers who died in captivity during the Great War in Alsace and Lorraine.

04 Soultzmatt Roumanian cemetery

Roumanian cemetery 7

Roumanian cemetery 6

Munster

The card below, posted in 1915, shows the town of Munster before the war, looking towards Hohrod and Hohroderg. In the background are the defended observation positions of Hörnleskopf, where vestiges of German structures can still be seen, with Barrenkopf, Kleinkopf and le Linge in the further distance.

Lancaster NN766 crashed into this mountainside on January 7th, 1945. A cross on the hillside commemorates the crew.

05 Munster facing towards Hohrod posted 1915

Hörnleskopf:

5b Hörnleskopf observatoire Français au sommet

5a Hörnleskopf

A few images showing the destruction of Munster during the Great War:
06 Album - Munster la place du Couvent

07 Album - Munster rue du Dome

08 Munster rue Hohrod ruines

The civic cemetery in Munster contains the dead of two World Wars and this Bavarian lion, erected by Bavarian troops in 1916. For a fuller account, please visit my other blog:

http://mightygwyn.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/cimetiere-militaire-munster-a-place-of-stories/

09   Munster cimetière posted 1925

The Monument aux Morts in Munster before the Second World War:

10 Munster les Promenades et le Monument aux Morts

Luttenbach-près-Munster

11 Picture map Munster area WITH BOX

The camping area in Luttenbach is the site of the château of Coubertin, founder of International Olympic Committee. The château was destroyed in the Great War.

Luttenbach looks across to Reichackerkopf (c  780m), the site of extremely fierce fighting between February and April 1915. It was immensely important, partly because it controlled access to Munster and the two prongs of the valley. 4500 French soldiers and 4000 Germans were killed or lost on this small section.

There are numerous vestiges of the Great War still visible on Reichackerkopf. Many of these settlements in the two valleys were destroyed during the 14-18 war.

12 Reichackerkopf vers la Vallée de Munster

Petit Ballon (1163 m)

Kahlenwasen is now a peaceful, popular ferme auberge high on the Petit Ballon. During the Great War the farm premises were used by German troops and destroyed. Signs of trench lines are still visible. (The feature picture of this blog was taken from Kahlenwasen.) The second postcard is a military card.

13 Kahlenwasen dated 1904

14 Kahlenwasen in snow, military postcard

Sondernach

Sondernach after the Great War; and the French cemetery at Sondernach, Cimetière du Bois de Maettle:

15 Sondernach after war

16 Cimetière Sondernach

After the War, the villages close to Sondernach were left in ruins.

16a Metzeral before the War Metzeral, before the 14-18 War

16c Metzeral 17 janvier 1916 Metzeral

16b  Metzeral ruines in snow posted 1919 Metzeral

16d Metzeral pont de la Fecht postwar Metzeral

16f Mittlach multivue 1915 Mittlach (Chasseurs Alpins’ ambulance base in cellar of Mairie-école)

16e Breitenbach cimetière militaire allemand. German military cemetery, Breitenbach.

A new church was built on the site of the wrecked Chapelle d’Emm as a memorial to those who died for France in the Vosges, particularly in the bitter battle for Metzeral, June 1915. The principal memorial window is beautiful.

16g Metzeral Chapelle Emm

A nos vaillants

IMG_4479 (Detail)

Le Breitfirst

This small, naïve memorial is not far from the road through le Breitfirst (1280m). Its story is self-explanatory from the inscription.

IMG_5479

Col d’Oderen (884 m)

The Col d’Oderen was a frontier point between 1871 and 1914. The original bornes frontières can still be seen. It was also the scene of important action in December 1944. For more information and photos, please see this blog post:
https://thebluelinefrontier.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/two-quiet-cols-oderen-and-bramont/

17 Col d'Oderen posted 1906

Servance

Finally, to give a flavour of the landscape around Servance, here is a postcard showing movement of equipment on the Ballon de Servance in winter.

18 Servance sommet hiver

And these two blog posts wouldn’t be complete without …

La cigogne blanche –  symbole de l’Alsace!

Stork

All postcards and photographs are my own.