IV
Day-to-day death

IV.1 Archaeology, bearing witness to unspeakable slaughter

 « Non, votre martyre n’est pas fini, mes camarades, et le fer vous blessera encore quand la bêche du paysan fouillera votre tombe. » 

(No, your martyrdom is not over yet dear comrades, the iron will strike again when the peasant’s spade intrudes upon your tomb)

Roland Dorgelès, Artois, 1915.

 

The Great War is the first conflict where a real importance was attached to identifying fallen soldiers, with efforts made, wherever possible, to bury each body in an individual grave. But the conditions of the fighting and the scale of the loss of life often made a mockery of these efforts.

Picture - Cl. Michel Signolli. CNRS
Picture - Cl. Gilles Prilaux. Inrap
IV.1.1 Almost 700,000 missing

The figures available for troops from the Commonwealth are very precise, as the bodies of all fallen soldiers were buried in individual graves near to where they were killed. This allows us to arrive at an estimate of the number of fallen soldiers whose remains have never been found. All nationalities combined, 640,000 Commonwealth soldiers met their demise on the Western Front. A total of 520,000 graves are recorded in the cemeteries managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, leaving 120,000 fallen soldiers with no known graves, i.e. around 20% of all those killed or missing in action. Applying this ratio to the other warring nations – France (1,300,000 killed), Belgium (38,200 killed), the United States (52,000 killed) and Germany (1,490,000 killed) – thus leaves us with a total of almost 700,000 bodies unaccounted for along the Western Front.

Picture Inventory of British graves. At the end of the... - Document Peter Barton avec l'aimable autorisation de l'Imperial War Museum
Picture National military cemetery at the Ferme de... - Cl. Yves Desfossés. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
IV.1.2 Examples of different types of war grave

Since the early 1990s, archaeologists have uncovered countless remains of soldiers never removed from the battlefields. The way they deal with these remains, initially motivated primarily by respect for the dead, has gradually evolved into a more scientific approach which aims to better understand and document the final moments in the lives of these missing soldiers. It goes without saying that in spite of the great number of these digs, each case is unique: the result of multiple, complex factors clashing and combining at random in a time of extreme violence and confusion. But it is nonetheless possible to identify certain recurring themes from amidst this tangle of interweaving personal tragedies. Firstly, we are presented with physical evidence of those lost and broken bodies so frequently described in the first-hand accounts of combatants. These discoveries can range from scattered fragments of skull found on the surface of a trench, or occasionally gathered together in a grave, to the full ‘remains and effects’ of a missing soldier, found along with his equipment in a shell crater or at the foot of a trench. In such cases no funeral rite has been performed, the body was simply buried unintentionally by the tumult of the battlefield. However, close study of the equipment worn by these soldiers allows us to compile a very detailed profile of the deceased (composition of their uniform, personal effects). On the contrary, those soldiers who received individual or mass burials were often stripped of their equipment and personal possessions before being buried. Our knowledge of these soldiers is therefore less detailed, but it is nonetheless possible to identify traces of funerary practices celebrating links of friendship or camaraderie, particularly in cases of mass burial where such gestures were repeated and thus easier to spot. Archaeologists sometimes come across tombs which are entirely (or almost) empty, evidence of the numerous exhumations which took place on the battlefields immediately after the end of hostilities.

Picture - Cl. Yves Desfossés. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
Picture - Cl. Yves Desfossés. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
Picture - Cl. Yves Desfossés. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
Picture - Cl. Gautier Basset. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
IV.1.3 Burying the dead

While the military regulations of the early twentieth century laid out the general principles to be observed when burying soldiers, the mass slaughter seen on the battlefields in the summer of 1914, and the peculiar conditions of trench warfare thereafter, made the implementation of these guidelines impossible. Burying dead comrades, often in great numbers while also having to cope with equal number of enemy dead, was in most cases a challenge to be tackled with the utmost urgency, not least for reasons of hygiene. Painstaking excavation of the burial sites identified by archaeologists, and particularly of mass graves, allows us to better appreciate the difficulties encountered by troops of all nationalities, and to observe the solutions they found. Firstly, the bodies of enemy combatants were not buried with the same care afforded to the bodies of fellow soldiers. This care was greater still if the deceased was a direct comrade in arms. But such distinctions are relative, and vary considerably in response to the circumstances which prevailed at the time. If the sector was relatively calm then enemy combatants would be buried decently and the remains of fellow soldiers would be transferred to an organised cemetery behind the front line. During intense periods of fighting, on the other hand, the only priority would be to dispose of the bodies as quickly as possible regardless of their nationality. The dead would thus be hastily interred below the parapet of the trench. Once again it is impossible to identify any general rules, as each body discovered by the archaeologists bears witness to a specific event, whose fate was determined by the interaction of numerous factors. For example, a number of tombs have been discovered along the front line dating from a period of particularly heavy fighting, and yet the burials reveal a great attention to detail, an astonishing example of the profound sense of camaraderie which bound together soldiers from the same combat unit.

Picture - Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
Picture - Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
Picture - Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
Picture - Photo allemande. Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
IV
Day-to-day death

IV.2 War on an industrial scale, death on an industrial scale

Visiting a First World War cemetery, with its incredible multitude of neatly-aligned graves, can help us to get some sense of the incredible scale of the human cost of this conflict. Astonishing though it may seem, trench warfare was less deadly than the period of manoeuvres in the field. 300,000 French soldiers were killed during the 5 months of open fighting in 1914, and 330,000 perished in 1915 in the period of large-scale offensives. These figures gradually decreased: 240,000 in 1916 and 150,000 in 1917, in spite of the Battles of Verdun, the Somme and the Chemin des Dames. The combatants learned to make the most of the relative protection offered by the trenches. 1918 saw the return of sweeping offensives, increasing the number of casualties. In the final year of the war the French army lost 220,000 men, still well short of the extraordinary losses of summer 1914.

Picture - Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
Picture - Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
Picture - Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
Picture - Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
Picture - Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
IV.2.1 The Grimsby Chums

On 21 st May 2001, on the site of the Actiparc industrial park near Arras, a 15m-long pit containing the remains of 20 British soldiers was discovered during preventive archaeological excavations conducted by a team from INRAP and the Arras archaeology department .

 

The forgotten dead of ‘Point du Jour’

The first 19 bodies had been carefully laid down on their backs, their hands crossed in front of them with the arms folded in such a way that all of the soldiers were ‘shoulder to shoulder’. A number of shoulder insignia bearing the inscription ‘LINCOLN’ indicated that these soldiers belonged to the 10 th battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment, a unit active in this zone from April 9 th to 13 th 1917. The symbolism of this arrangement is clear, and becomes all the more poignant when we consider that the nickname of this regiment was the ‘Grimsby Chums’, hailing predominantly from the small port town of Grimsby in north-east England.

 

This unusual, non-regulation grave is a particularly strong example of the strong bonds of camaraderie which united these men. Interpreting and understanding the circumstances of this burial was a major challenge for the archaeologists. The soldiers were reinterred in 2002 in the nearest military cemetery.

Picture View of the mass grave containing the remains... - Cl. Gilles Prilaux. Inrap
Picture - Cl. Gilles Prilaux. Inrap
Picture - Cl. Gilles Prilaux. Inrap
IV.2.2 The German soldiers at Bétheny

In 2013, preventive archaeological investigations conducted at Bétheny (Marne) by a team from INRAP unearthed a series of small pits, arranged in two rows stretching over a distance of almost 60 metres. These graves contained several bodies of German soldiers killed in the early days of the war, probably on 17 th or 18 th September 1914. Initially a series of individual holes were dug, later joined together to form small trenches a few metres in length and around 70cm deep and 50cm wide. Two shell impacts destroyed these trenches, exploding and scattering the remains of at least seven soldiers and damaging seven more, whose bodies would be found intact nearby. The impact of the explosions is clearly visible in the twisted, unnatural positions of these bodies.

 

Close examination of the objects found in the vicinity reveal that this combat unit, in action at Bétheny, belonged to Füsilier-Regiment 73 (F.R. 73) and comprised a number of soldiers who had been in action since the very beginning of hostilities, along with recent reinforcements assigned to this unit and provided with less modern equipment. The results of this dig provide an extraordinary snapshot of the final days of open, moving combat, before the front line was definitively established near Reims and the era of trench warfare began.

Slideshow - Inrap
Picture - Yves Desfossés. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
Picture - Fonds documentaire Christophe Dutrône
Picture - Fonds documentaire Michel Harduin
Picture - Yves Desfossés. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
IV.2.3 The Carspach tunnels

Located on the slopes of the ‘Lerchenberg’ hill at Carspach (Haut-Rhin), the ‘Kilianstollen’ is set on the German front line, which remained stable to the west of Altkirch between 1914 and 1918. This structure is a large underground shelter (with the potential capacity to hold 500 soldiers), built between 1915 and 1916, where the soldiers from the trenches could seek shelter during enemy bombardments.

 

The German archives provide ample information on the construction of this subterranean shelter and the tragic events of 18th March 1918 which led to its partial destruction. That morning the German artillery spent the morning pounding the French lines with gas shells, while in the afternoon the French artillery responded by concentrating its fire on the section of the line near the Kilianstollen. A company from the 94 th German reserve infantry regiment took refuge in this supposed stronghold. After several direct hits in rapid succession, the shelter collapsed and around thirty soldiers were buried in the rubble. A rescue operation was launched to free those who remained trapped underground, but the search was soon called off as technical constraints made it impossible to proceed. Twenty-one soldiers remained unaccounted for.

 

A preventive archaeological dig conducted in 2011 by the Interdepartmental Archaeological Service for the Rhine succeeded in locating these missing soldiers. Their remains were not moved after their deaths, meaning that they remained exactly as they were immediately after the collapse. These excavations provided new insight into the construction, design and use of this subterranean shelter, and much new information was also gleaned from examining the bodies and objects uncovered.

Slideshow Overview of the Carspach tunnels (Haut-Rhin)... - PAIR
Picture View of the Carspach tunnels (Haut-Rhin) during... - PAIR
Picture The Kilianstollen was located near the village... - PAIR
IV.2.4 The Route de Thélus battlefield

The creation of a 20-hectare industrial park on the exact location of the third battle of Artois (25th September 1915) provided an opportunity to study a section of the battlefield, revealing the presence of several concrete machine gun nests as well as a network of trenches marked on various contemporary French and German maps.

 

Further exploration conducted during the earth levelling and demining work turned up the intact or fragmented remains of 26 French and German soldiers who took part in this battle. The researchers were able to identify approximately a quarter of these soldiers, belonging to the 50 th Infantry Regiment. Those identified included company commander Lt. Jean Tessier (enlisted in Saintes), sergeant André Léger, privates second class Lucien Labat and Henri Faux (enlisted in Périgueux), Martin Dujardin (enlisted in Limoges), and Gaston Basset (enlisted in Béthune). They are now interred at the national military cemetery at Lorette. It is more than likely that discoveries of this nature will be made during future developments. This project presented a rare opportunity to study the evolution of a battlefield, over an area of 20 hectares which had been historically protected, examining the burial practices of both armies in a context of intense fighting and observing the way both parties treated the remains of friends and enemies ‘lost in combat’.

Slideshow -
Picture -
Picture - Cl. Alain Jacques. Service archéologique d'Arras
Picture - Site internet Mémoire des hommes. Service historique de la Défense/DAVCC/Caen
IV.2.5 German and French casualties at Massiges

Covering an area of just over 3 hectares, the site known as ‘the Crater’ has become emblematic of the war’s impact on the Champagne region. For the past five years this site has been managed by the La Main de Massiges association. The members of this association are working to re-excavate the wartime trenches and faithfully restore them to their 1915 condition, the year which saw fierce fighting between the opposing French and German forces seeking to win control of the strategically important positions overlooking the village of Massiges. This work has unearthed the remains of numerous soldiers. The study of these remains by archaeological experts, and particularly their location within the trench network, has allowed us to better understand the process by which the ‘bodies and personal effects’ of soldiers could disappear on the battlefield. Of the nine bodies recovered since 2011, 3 German and 3 French soldiers had received no burial to speak of, instead being found in shell craters or at the bottom of trenches, covered over when the earthworks crumbled at the end of the war. The body of one French soldier had received a very hasty burial, curled up in a shell crater, but two others had been carefully laid down in individual graves dug for this purpose. The archaeologists were able to identify one of these two bodies thanks to the presence, unusual in such circumstances, of his identity tags. The soldier’s name was Albert Dadure . In July 2014, 5 bodies of German soldiers were uncovered just outside the ‘Crater’, buried haphazardly and hurriedly in the access tunnel of a subterranean shelter. This site offers a glimpse into the horrors of war, where more often than not there was no time to give the dead a decent burial, not even your own comrades in arms.

Picture - Steven Delcourt. La Forme interactive
Picture - Steven Delcourt. La Forme interactive
Picture - Steven Delcourt. La Forme interactive
Picture - Steven Delcourt. La Forme interactive
Picture - Steven Delcourt. La Forme interactive
Picture - Steven Delcourt. La Forme interactive
IV
Day-to-day death

IV.3 Individual Stories

Above and beyond the information it may yield regarding the conditions in which the deceased was buried, excavating a war grave is also an act of respect. It cannot be compared to the often purely scientific experience of excavating Gallo-Roman era tombs, going beyond the usual boundaries of the archaeological profession. War graves are often excavated more out of respect for the dead than for their intrinsic archaeological significance. Such excavations can reveal highly poignant individual stories.

Picture - Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
Picture - Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
IV.3.1 Alain-Fournier (1886-1914)

The discovery of the grave of Alain-Fournier, in 1991, was a major milestone in the evolution of attitudes to the archaeological traces of a past which remained relatively recent, and the birth of Great War archaeology as a discipline in its own right. The initiative came from a group of admirers of the author of Le Grand Meaulnes (1913), who wished to put an end once and for all to the debate over the circumstances of his death. Certain rumours maintained that the young writer had been executed after firing on German medical personnel. His admirers succeeded in identifying the exact location of what they believed to be the resting place of Alain-Fournier and his companions in death, at Saint-Rémy-la-Calonne (Meuse). France’s Minister for Culture, Jack Lang, called in the national archaeological service to conduct the excavation, in spite of their initial reluctance.

 

The intervention of these archaeologists, highly trained in the techniques of field anthropology, ensured that the dig had every chance of identifying the bodies and obtaining as much as information as possible. The remains of Alain-Fournier were thus identified, along with those of 18 of the 20 soldiers present in this mass grave, all of whom fell in battle on 22 nd September 1914. They were all transferred to the national military cemetery at Saint-Rémy-la-Calonne.

Slideshow - Médiathèque de Bourges
Picture - Cl. Dornac. Médiathèque de Bourges
Picture - Médiathèque de Bourges
Picture - Frédéric Adam. Inrap
IV.3.2 Pierre Grenier (1885-1915)

During the laying of a new gas pipeline on the Rue de Douai in Roclincourt (Pas-de-Calais), workmen came across the ruins of a communication trench listed on the maps held by the general staff as the ‘Lesieur trench’. At the bottom of this trench lay the body of soldier Pierre Grenier (Private No. 1771 in the 4th Company of the 1st Battalion of the 59th Infantry Regiment.). On 24th September 1915 his unit spent the night at Arras, before being moved up to the Roclincourt sector at the far right flank of the offensive line put in place for the third battle of Artois

 

Pierre Grenier passed through a communication trench to join up with his company; meanwhile, under the pressure of the German artillery fire, the walls of the trench collapsed and buried him. The records for 25 th September 1915 shows that the 4 th Company recorded 10 men killed, 52 wounded and 4 missing in action. On 11 th April 1921 Grenier was officially declared to have “died for his country” by the court at Tournon.

 

Private Grenier was carrying a light haversack containing a tent, a gas mask and two days’ rations. He was also carrying his personal documents, including photographs of his family, a pencil, his wallet (which contained his gold wedding band) and a handful of coins of which the most recent was a gold ten Franc piece from 1911. Among his personal effects were also found a puzzle in the form of a boat, two aluminium rings and one (unfinished) copper ring, a pocket watch, a pipe and lighter, a penknife, a bronze cross and a small prayer book.

Slideshow Correspondence of Private Pierre Grenier‚... - Fonds documentaire de la famille Grenier
Slideshow Objects belonging to Private Pierre Grenier‚... - Service archéologique municipal d'Arras
Picture - Fonds documentaire de la famille Grenier
Picture Full-length photographic portrait of Private... - Fonds documentaire de la famille Grenier
Picture Portrait photograph of Private Pierre Grenier‚... - Fonds documentaire de la famille Grenier
Picture Military record of the death of Private Pierre... - Ministère de la Défense
IV.3.3 Albert Dadure (1894 - 1915)

On 21 st July 2013, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a soldier at La Main de Massiges. These remains belonged to Albert Dadure, born 2 nd April 1894 at Audouville-la-Hubert in the district of Sainte-Mère l’Église (Manche). Before mobilisation he was a farmer living at Fontenay-sur-Mer. On 7th September 1914 Albert Dadure was called up and underwent military training in preparation for front line duty. On 5 th December 1914 he joined the 23 th colonial infantry regiment (23 rd RIC), based in Paris, and was sent up to the Massiges sector of the front in Champagne.

 

From then on his regiment saw active duty on the front lines at Main de Massiges and on the northern edge of the forest at Hauzy. While on rest they were based in Dommartin-sous-Hans. On 4 th February 1915 the 23 rd RIC was moved back up to the trenches at Main de Massiges. On the 5 th the French positions on this ridge were subjected to extremely heavy bombing from the German artillery. The troops tasked with holding on to these slopes, with the Germans overlooking them on all sides, were placed in a critical situation and sustained heavy losses (Source: War diary of the 5 th colonial brigade). On 7 th February Private Albert Dadure was killed by a bullet on the front line. Dadure was buried in the trench by his comrades. On 11 th February this position was taken by the Germans, and not recaptured until late September 1915. In the meantime, the tomb of Albert Dadure was forgotten.

Slideshow - Fonds documentaire La Main de Massiges
Picture - Éric Marchal. Association de la Main de Massiges
Picture - Michel Signolli. CNRS
Picture - Fonds documentaire de la Main de Massiges
Picture - Yves Desfossés. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
Picture - Site internet Mémoire des hommes. Service historique de la Défense/DAVCC/Caen
IV.3.4 Archibald MacMillan (1889-1917)

The excavation of the grave of a soldier belonging to the 15 th battalion of the Royal Scots Regiment in the area which was to become the Actiparc industrial park near Arras provides an excellent illustration of the strong personal involvement experienced by Great War archaeologists when faced with such poignant personal stories. This soldier, buried in a shell crater in April 1917, was identified thanks to his metal identity tag, bearing the name Archibald MacMillan. The British military authorities issued each soldier with two identity tags, made of a material resembling boiled leather which did not survive well when buried. A large number of soldiers thus obtained their own non-regulation tags, pressed from rust-resistant metal and often imitating the model used by the French army.

 

Once the tomb had been excavated the body of MacMillan was handed over to the British authorities, for reburial in the nearest military cemetery. When the body had been identified the Commonwealth War Graves Commission began conducting enquiries to see if any descendants could be located, and came across… Archibald’s son. The 87-year-old was thus present in 2002 for the long-delayed funeral of a father he had barely known.

 

This is a fine example of the impact which archaeological work can have, and we can well imagine the questions the archaeologists had to ask of themselves regarding the ‘legitimacy’ of their intervention in a domain of such importance to our collective memory.

Picture - Cl. Yves Desfossés. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
Picture - Cl. Yves Desfossés. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
IV.3.5 August Hütten (1880-1918)

August Hütten was born on 7th March 1880 at Aix-la-Chapelle, into a cultured bourgeois family. He was the third child of Gerhard (1845-1918) and Christine Hütten (1853-1932). The family was Catholic, socially conscious and fond of music. He studied at the Charlemagne High School (Kaiser-Karls-Gymnasium).

 

By March 1918 he held the rank of Feldwebelleutnant, serving as second in command to the company and section commander. His last posting was to the 6 th company of the 94 th reserve infantry regiment (Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 94). Photographs suggest that August had received the Iron Cross sometime between September 1917 and spring 1918.

 

On 18 th March 1918 August Hütten was buried in the collapse of the ‘Kilianstollen’ at Carspach (Haut-Rhin) near Altkirch, where his regiment had been stationed since December 1917. The bomb shelter in which the troops had sought refuge was destroyed by French artillery. The body of August was not recovered during the war, but a stone monument erected on 27 th May 1962 commemorated the location of his death. His remains were finally discovered and identified by an archaeological dig conducted in 2011. In 2013 he was reinterred in the German military cemetery at Illfurth (Haut-Rhin), along with the comrades in arms who shared his unhappy fate.

Slideshow - Hannelore Börger
Picture - Cl. A. Bolly. PAIR
Picture - Cl. A. Bolly. PAIR
Picture - Cl. A. Bolly. PAIR
IV
Day-to-day death

IV.4 Beasts and men, united in suffering

While the Great War was predominantly a static war of attrition, of which the trench remains the most potent symbol, maintaining the steady flow of ammunition and supplies to the front line and transporting artillery batteries demanded logistical resources on a gigantic scale. With automotive technology still in its infancy, hundreds of thousands of animals, primarily horses and mules, would find themselves ‘enlisted for duty’. The cavalry horses intended to chase up breakthroughs in the enemy line, particularly in the early stages of the war, also sustained heavy casualties.

Picture Horses killed by artillery fire on the Western... - Fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
Picture Equine casualties. Horses killed on open... - Photo allemande, fonds documentaire Alain Jacques
IV.4.1 The horses of Braine.

In 1997 an archaeological survey conducted on an industrial zone in Braine (Aisne) revealed three oval pits, each containing the intact skeleton of an adult horse. These graves were arranged in a line, with only 70 metres between the two most distant pits. The proximity of the 1914-1918 frontline, the shell fragments found in one of the graves and the absence of horseshoes and harnesses (always recovered) as well as the fact that a few of the hooves were damaged suggested that these were light cavalry horses killed by enemy artillery fire and buried in situ.

 

The area around Braine was not directly affected by the trench war, with the front line remaining fixed a few miles north at Chemin des Dames between October 1914 and May 1918. It thus seemed reasonable to link the demise of the Braine horses to the latter stages of the Marne counter-offensive, around 13 th September 1914. On this date the advance of the British army led by Field Marshal French, which had driven the Germans back from Meaux, was halted on the high ground between the Vesle and Aisne rivers, overlooking Braine. The British cavalry sustained a few losses but retained control of this sector, having time to recover the horseshoes and bury the dead horses. They also managed, not without considerable difficulty, to push the enemy back to the Aisne, where the front line remained for the next three years.

Picture - CL. Yves Desfossés. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
Picture - CL. Yves Desfossés. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication