Picture Postcards from the Great War
1914-1918

The story behind a Great War postcard - Tony Allen

(7) The Trench of Bayonets

On 21st February 1916, the German 5th Army launched a massive offensive against Verdun, which the French 2nd Army were defending. A number of the outer ring of French forts were obliterated. Fort Douaumont for example fell on 25th February. It was located not far from the village of the same name, which stood on the Meuse – three miles northeast of Verdun.


ww1 postcard The Trench of Bayonets

This postcard was made from buff coloured card, and carries a printed photograph, which shows the aftermath of an incident, which occurred in 1916. On the reverse of it is printed the legend ‘CARTE POSTLE’ and simple address line are provided. No publishers’ details are given. The picture depicts a concrete canopy supported by cylindrical columns, while on the ground are several wooden crosses with inscriptions on them. Between the crosses are a number of bayonets protruding from the earth. The caption below the photograph reads, ‘VERDUN – Monument de la Trenchee des Baionnettes, vue intetrieure.’

 

The trench, which is depicted on the postcard, was in an area known as the ‘Ravine de la dame’ sector, near the village of Douaumont. In June 1916, during a heavy bombardment two battalions of the French 137th Infantry Regiment were buried alive in the front-line trench. Some of those who did were men who had been standing with fixed bayonets ready to go over the top. When the German artillery had finished its bombardment of the French, all that remained visible in the filled-in trench were a number of bayonets. As a mark of respect, the Germans completed ‘filling-in’ the mass grave.

On 11th July, a desperate German assault in the hills surrounding Verdun was repulsed. After six months of vicious fighting, they had failed to take their objective. On 18th December after the French had retaken several of the forts, the battle of Verdun ended in stalemate. The French had suffered over half a million casualties and the Germans over 400,000.

 In 1919, the rusting rifles and bayonets were gain seen protruding from the ground; as a result, the Colonel of the 137th Infantry Regiment erected a wooden monument close by. In the ‘twenties, a wealthy American, Mr. Rand, hearing of the story of ‘The trench of bayonets’, paid for the construction of a concrete shelter as a more permanent memorial to the men who had died there. Forty of he bodies were identified and were then re-buried in the nearby Fleuty cemetery. The bodies of the remaining 17 unknown soldiers were left where they were, and marked by simple wooden crosses – and of course their bayonets.

                                                                                                                     

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