The Cemeteries

Cemeteries sprinkled the landscape of territories where fighting took place. If numerous bodies could not be found, decent graves were planned at different levels. Losses were very heavy ever since the conflict started.

Bodies were mostly abandoned on the land where shells had torn them apart, thus rendering any further identification impossible. The seriously injured, unable to move, had to wait for the stretcher-bearers who came to pick them up at night when the artillery bombardment and infantry fire subsided. At the cost of tremendous effort, these injured men were carried out through destroyed back alleys in a chaotic area pockmarked with projectile craters. 

The Cemeteries of the First-Aid Posts

A large number of the injured men who were carried away from the battlefield did not survive. Consequently, the Health Service buried them near the post. These small cemeteries grew larger every day to keep up with increased fatalities. Thus, dozens of mini-cemeteries were created, such as in Avocourt, in Esnes, near Hill 304, in Chattancourt at the bottom of Mort-Homme, in Bras and in the Coutant forest.

The Cemeteries of the Field Hospitals

The injured soldiers who were evacuated from first-aid posts arrived at the rear zone, where they were admitted to well-equipped military hospitals, the Orientation and Evacuation Hospitals (H.O.E.s). There, the medical staff classified them according to the seriousness and urgency of their case, i.e. "movable" to be evacuated by ambulance trains, or "non-movable" for the more seriously injured. The latter, who were operated on immediately and were bedridden, enjoyed relative tranquility at a distance of 10 or 15 km from the front lines. “Relative” tranquility, because in the summer of 1917, for example, the H.O.E. in Vadelaincourt was bombarded by enemy airplanes that killed many of the injured men along with doctors and nurses. Such field hospitals operated in Petit Monthairons, in the Queue de Mala near Les Souhesmes, in Vadelaincourt, etc. There are military cemeteries with maintained graves near the detachments where the injured who died while hospitalized are buried.

Postwar Consolidation

Beginning in 1920, the Vital Records Department of the 6th Military Region, along with the War Graves Department, performed the consolidation of tombs by selecting some military cemeteries where bodies that had been exhumed from other discontinued necropolises were reinterred. In actuality, only a few of these were kept, out of several dozen cemeteries distributed around Verdun. The cemeteries that expanded as a result of this consolidation became national necropolises, i.e. in Avocourt, Esnes, Chattancourt, Dombasle, Landrecourt, Senoncourt, Vadelaincourt, Ville-sur-Cousances, the Petit Monthairon, Fromeréville, Haudainville, Dugny, Belleray, Brocourt, Bras and, in Verdun: Glorieux, Faubourg Pavé, Bevaux.

One of the ossuaries at the necropolis of Bras received some unidentified bodies exhumed from the towns of Mouilly and Rupt-en-Woëvre, as well as some known deceased –reinterred in individual graves – originating from isolated cemeteries or tombs in those same towns, as well as in Grimaucourt-en-Woëvre.

These consolidations were staggered until the 1930s. It should also be noted that from 1952 to 1961 the necropolises took in 1,576 bodies of servicemen who “died for France" between 1939 and 1945 in the Meuse and were reinterred in individual graves: 602 in Faubourg Pavé and 485 in Bevaux, 151 in Bras, 135 in Dugny, 49 in Avocourt, etc.

Major renovation and restoration work was completed in the 1990s in Dugny, Belleray, Landrecourt, Bras, Souhesmes and Chattancourt, while the others were renovated between 1960 and 1970. These national cemeteries, comprised of perpetual graves, are maintained by the Interdepartmental Directorate of War Veterans and Victims in Metz.

The Douaumont National Necropolis

The inauguration took place on June 23, 1929, attended by Gaston Doumergue, President of the Republic.

Starting in 1923, the [War] Graves Department selected the location and arranged for grading of a parcel of land covering several hectares. Once the land had been leveled, the paths and graves were laid out.

In August of 1925, remains from the small cemeteries around Verdun were transferred to the right-hand section. In November, the Necropolis received the bodies exhumed from the discontinued cemetery at Fleury.

In October of 1926, it took in remains from the cemetery of La Fontaine de Tavannes. Over subsequent years, the bodies that continued to be found in the "red zone" (up to 500 per month) were buried here, more than half of which were identified. The Necropolis also received remains from the Bois Coutant cemetery.

In 1949, after WWII, bodies found in the former cemetery at Batterie de l'Hôpital were buried here.

Between 1960 and 1965, major redevelopment and renovation work beautified the Necropolis.

In 1984, a plaque was installed to commemorate the meeting between French President François Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, which symbolized the reconciliation of the two countries.

There are 1,781 Muslim graves distributed among 16 of the Necropolises, where they are arranged in squares or rows. The largest squares are those at Douaumont, with 592 tombs, Bras with 254, and Dugny, which has 201. Each grave is marked with a Muslim stela bearing the inscription "here lies" in Arabic, followed by the name of the deceased.

The American Cemeteries

Romagne-sous-Monfaucon: The Meuse-Argonne Cemetery covers an area of 250 ha. It includes a chapel-memorial and contains 14,246 graves. It is the largest American WWI cemetery in Europe.

Thiaucourt, in reality the Saint-Mihiel Cemetery, has 4,152 tombs.


The German Cemeteries

In France there are 192 German WWI cemeteries where 768,000 soldiers are buried. In the Meuse, the principal ones are: Consenvoye (11,148 graves), Dannevoux, Epinonville, Chéppy, Lissey, Peuviller, Damvillers, Mangiennes, Romagnes-sous-les-Côtes, Azannes (I and II), Amel, Hautecourt, Maizerais, Harville, Troyon, St. Maurice, Viéville, St. Mihiel and Rembercourt.


The Cemeteries of the British Commonwealth of Nations

Laid to rest in these cemeteries are the British, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians and South Africans.

The Commonwealth’s War Graves Commission perpetuates the memory of the 575,000 soldiers who died under its colors; 218,000 of those fatalities remain graveless. The tombs are distributed among 3,000 cemeteries and 22 memorials, some examples of which are: Thiepval, Villers–Bretoneux, Ypres and Vimy.

 

Other cemeteries took in combatants from Belgium, Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Portugal, Denmark …

 

 

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