The Blue Line – the Vosges frontier 1871 to 1914

The frontier separating Alsace from France before the Great War


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Defiance, resolution, inspiration: Jeanne d’Arc on memorials in Alsace

Breitenbach Bas Rhin Jeanne 2

In 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 part of the German Empire, she became a powerful symbol of resistance, of defiance, of eagerness for liberation

TBreitenbach Bas Rhin Jeanne 1he inspirational figure of Jeanne or Jehanne d’Arc is a recurrent theme in monuments and memorials after the Great War.  In the memorial in the rural village of Breitenbach, Bas-Rhin,  [above and left], Jeanne stands alone.

Many Alsacien men were forced to fight for Germany, although anyone under the age of 43 when war was declared in 1914 had not known life as a French citizen and Alsacien men in the German army had grown up as Germans. Nevertheless, the theme of a young man being forced to fight for the oppressor is a powerful one and many patriotic and propaganda images depict the despair of the young soldier and his family.

The woman depicted on the war memorial at Guebwiller [previous blog post] pins a small rosette on a young man’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 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 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 August 1914 as each side fought to gain control of the essential cols. 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

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 (August 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 1

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.

Poilus

It is a memorial of unexpected height and power; the loyal Chasseur figures, bravely ready for any challenger and cared for in death 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. Your eye is drawn upwards from the brave soldiers to their alleged inspiration as they fought to regain Alsace and Moselle for France.

Jeanne d'Arc, Ballon d'Alsace

Jeanne d’Arc, Ballon d’Alsace

Note:

Le cimetière militaire Plaine also includes a small plot containing the remains of 40 British casualties from the Great War. It is in the far left hand corner of my photograph.

Much of this text has been adapted from a previous blog post. It is published here in the period of Remembrance.


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The frontier in the south: the Ballon d’Alsace

 Ballon d'Alsace cafes   View across Rhine plain to Black Forest.

In fine weather, people today head off up to the Ballon d’Alsace. In hot weather, it’s refreshing and there are cafés and souvenir shops to tempt exhausted travellers.  You can walk round the summit , watch the parapentists, admire the orchids, contemplate the  dramatic monument aux Démineurs (1952) and even spot remnants of the trenches from Great War.

The scene on the mountain summit (1247m) has not changed much since the period of the frontier when it was a popular attraction for walkers and later, cyclists and motorists. Several establishments were set up to benefit from increasing tourism; there were hotels and cafes to refresh travellers exhausted from the demanding walk, winding drive or steep cycle ride to the summit. The views are spectacular, including the Vosgien massif, the Rhine plain and the Black Forest. At certain times of year, when the vegetation had died down, it was sometimes possible for the traveller to see chasseurs à pied (infantry) on manoeuvres or even local patriotic groups practising military tactics.

Ballon d'Alsace overview

Ballon d'Alsace Le Sommet et la Borne Frontiere 1914  Card posted 1914; borne frontière.

Ballon d'Alsace Summit car people borne

This part of the frontier was particularly susceptible to smuggling: illegal trade in tobacco was especially rife. Consequently the customs officials were firmly established in an attempt to intercept the smugglers. A new customs building on the descent to Giromagny was built before the Great War. (Not shown)

Ballon d'Alsace Borne Zéro posted Feb 1910  Card posted 1910.

Ballon d'Alsace La Borne people and dog

The current borne routière interdepartemental is close to the Bar des Démineurs and the 1952 monument aux Démineurs, but in the fields by the terrasse of the Ferme auberge du Ballon is the original borne signifying the frontier.  It is small, square, sturdy and the F for France is clear.

Ballon d'Alsace borne

The author Charles-Marie Laurent recorded his observations: he noted the damage to many hated stones, where the face looking towards Germany had been hacked at, chipped, shot, deeply cut and dented. “Infortunés et braves Alsaciens!” he declared.

Ballon d'Alsace statue de Jeanne d'arc

Looking across the Rhine plain to the Black Forest is Jeanne d’Arc. She is proud, defiant, deliberately positioned to show that Alsace and Lorraine challenge their annexation and to provide hope of return to those who chose to resettle on the French side of the new border. Mathurin Marchal was the sculptor and apparently more than ten thousand patriotic Alsaciens attended its inauguration in 1909, eager to see the proud symbol of their desire that the lost regions be returned to France. Jeanne has actually changed position more than once: at one stage she faced France to call the motherland to rescue the abandoned people.

Jeanne Ballon

Another popular attraction was the statue of Mary: la Vierge du Sommet, Notre-Dame du Ballon. Although she is close to the frontier, she was actually erected in 1862 by a farmer, Joseph Grisward, in gratitude for being saved from a severe snowstorm in 1860. Later on, though, after the Treaty of Frankfurt, the phrase ‘Marie protégez la France’ was added, which C-M Laurent thought had an air of being wise after the event.

Despite its loathed frontier and all it represented, the Ballon was a place for play and excitement. Motorists enjoyed the challenge of the steep, winding road to the summit and the opportunity to speed on the top.  In 1905-6 the mountain featured in the Tour de France Automobile and it was also included in the 1905 Tour de France.

Ballon d'Alsace La Borne et le Sommet (cars)

Ballon d'Alsace La montée devant le Poste des Douaniers posted 1907

Spring on the Ballon d’Alsace is pleasant, often with the traces of snow remaining in the crevices, evidence of the bitter winters. Then, life on the frontier became far more challenging. In a future post, I’ll write about the experience of winter on the Ballon d’Alsace.

Ballon d'Alsace ferme

Photographs June 2012 and June 2013.

All postcards from my collection.


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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