France, Vic-Sur-Aisne and World-War-One

Vic-Sur-Aisne Picardy France

The campsite where we were staying in the village of Berny-Riviere was about a mile away from the nearby town of Vic-Sur-Aisne.  Not many people from the campsite seemed to go there because everything that a family needed was provided for on site.

I didn’t want to go on a trampoline, or a rowing boat, go fishing or play laser-quest and I didn’t want to pay for Wifi when it should be free so I got into the habit of after breakfast taking myself off to the town where I found a rather agreeable bar with pavement tables and free internet access.  After a few days my granddaughter Molly began to join me and I liked that.

Vic-Sur-Aisne turned out to be a rather interesting town.  During the First-World-War it was almost permanently on the front line with fighting never far away.  It sits equidistance between the major battle sites of the Somme to the north and Verdun to the east.  What made it important was that it was a major railway interchange where troops would be transferred back and forth to the battle lines in between front line duty and periods of rest or to be hospitalised.

Vic-Sur-Aisne War Memorial

This meant that it came under regular enemy fire and even today the older buildings in the town show pock-marked battle scars where shells and bullets had picked away at the stones and the bricks.  A few years ago I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in old Yugoslavia and twenty years after the civil war I wasn’t surprised to still see the evidence of fighting in damage to the buildings but here in France I was somewhat taken aback to be examining shrapnel damage from a hundred years ago.

Vic-Sur-Aine War Damage

Vic-Sur-Aisne is situated on a linear historical site called the Ligne Rouge, which is a walk (a long walk) or a drive along a route which more or less represents the approximate Front Line of the war.  Approximate because it did move back and forth a little bit over the four years of the conflict.  Every village has a war memorial which honours the fallen in both World Wars and every village has a military graveyard gruesomely disproportionate to the size of the village.

Western_front_1915-16

Vic-Sur-Aisne is no exception, it has a population of under two thousand but in the military graveyard there are over three thousand memorial white crosses as headstones.  I visited the graveyard one day to pay my respects.  On another day I visited the nearby graveyard at Ambleny where there are nearly eleven thousand graves and I was struck by the enormity of the War and the appalling number of casualties.

Ambleny is the largest military graveyard in Picardy and contains the graves of two French soldiers who were caught in civilian clothing in a bar and were shot as deserters to set an example to others.  There was no such thing as PTSD in 1917.  They were posthumously pardoned in 1923. I bet they were glad about that!

Ambleny cemetery

I liked the town of Vic-Sur-Aisne, I liked the Wednesday street market where I bought Toulouse sausage to make a cassoulet, I liked the friendly local people in the bar who made me feel welcome, I liked the boulangerie that sold tempting pastries, I liked sitting on the pavement outside the bar beneath the tower of a medieval castle where I daily reflected on the history of the region and thanked my lucky stars that I have never been involved in such horror as previously took place here.

I daily thanked the soldiers that died here protecting freedom and democracy so that one hundred years later it was possible to come here with my family and friends to enjoy a lovely holiday…

Vic-Sur-Aisne Holiday 2017France 2017a

32 responses to “France, Vic-Sur-Aisne and World-War-One

  1. Nice post.

    Military cemeteries always leave an impact precisely because of the numbers. Arlington is one such, but I’ve visited a number of Civil War sites and words always seem inadequate descriptors of the sights, emotions, and thoughts one confronts.

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    • Ii would like to visit an American Civil War site, no war ever seemed so futile to me as that one.

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    • I’m not sure about the context of the word “futile” in that sentence.

      WW I to me seems futile as its main purpose seemed to be the setting up of WW II but even there it could be argued that at the time it was not futile as it kept Germany from establishing a planned world empire. WW II would see the continuation of that fight and it resulted in a substantially different world, and so it was for the Civil War, radically changing the way the US went forward.

      More recent wars certainly could fall under a variance of that descriptor.

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  2. Lovely to have Molly’s company! Did you walk into the village? 🙂

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  3. Sounds like a very interesting place. Never quite understand people who don’t venture away from the campsite though, even if it does have everything you need, they’ve missed out on a gem of a place it seems.

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  4. I shall make a point of searching for this village next time I am in the area. My next battlefield trip is next week when I go with a few friends to Ypres where we shall walk part of the Passchendaele front and lay a wreath at the Menin Gate. Your piece gives food for thougtht.

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  5. Around a couple of decades ago I travelled quite a bit in Northern France and Belgium, taking in a good number of WW1 sites…very sobering

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  6. I like the atmosphere of a small town, Andrew, where you feel welcome. It makes such a difference. As for the acres and acres of tombstones, peaceful now, but still a grim reminder of the wars that were fought and the millions who died. –Curt

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  7. Powerful post. We must never forget but sadly most do. I visited Verdun a couple of years ago and like you found it very moving and thought provoking. I just saw the story on the news about the twins who finally found out where the dad they never knew was buried. The sacrifices are just incredible.

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  8. A well-written post. These paces with so much history are always food for thought. War, war, what is it good for?

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  9. Stephen Parry-Langdon

    Thank you for the article. I first visited the campsite in 1993 – and it was quite a shock to realise that the damage to the wall that lines the road to the village was damage from the First World War. I’ve looked on the web from time to time but not really found a great deal of info. I think, though, that some of the damage was caused by German rail mounted guns. I’ve been there a number of times now, and it never ever fails to move me.
    Stephen

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  10. Pingback: A Gate in France, Three Ways | Have Bag, Will Travel

  11. I think that the First World War was the greatest catastrophe in the history of Europe. We will never know what all of those young university students would have accomplished had they not been killed guarding a pile of mud. English, French, German, Russian, a whole generation of talent was wiped out.
    The entire problem should have been worked out by diplomats. Apparently even the Queen said “Oh my God, surely we’re not going to war over Serbia”.
    You’re so right about the military graveyards “gruesomely disproportionate to the size of the village”. WW1 turned France into a wilderness with no men to farm it, just as it did to Newfoundland who lost all of their men in just one attack apparently.

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  12. If anyone is interested, this is an excellent video . . .

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  13. The French have some excellent war memorials, but that is the most imaginative I have seen

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  14. Great post! I’ve never been to France-sur-Aisne but I’ve been to other lovey French towns and villages and seen the cemeteries, so immaculately kept.

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  15. Pingback: Thursday Doors – Vic-Sur-Aisne in Northern France | Have Bag, Will Travel

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