From the pontoon at St Mihiel, Brian and I had our first sampling of World War I history. We'd gotten a great sightseeing tip from Kent and Heather (M/Y Apres Ski
) who had recommended we visit the Trench of Thirst. Kent provided excellent walking directions, which we followed although skeptical that we were actually heading out into the great, wide yonder. We walked away from St Mihiel's downtown and turned onto a dirt road that led up, up, up, a long hill. Atop, we scanned the French landscape of rolling hills, pine groves, sunflower fields, and wheat fields. All available "roads" were narrow, dirt, two-tire-track lanes. We walked farther.
As we approached an intersection that seemed as though it would be the very intersection that Kent described, despite the dirt roads, Brian spotted a large sign way in the distance. "That looks like something," he pointed. Sure enough, as we continued through the intersection a directional sign assured us we were on the correct path. Sometimes finding these hidden treasures is the most fun!
The sign Brian had spotted in the distance was, indeed, the entrance sign to historical sites, Bois d'Ailly and Tranchee de la Soif. Here were the remains of battle trenches utilized for warfare during World War I. We began our tour by solemnly observing a memorial under which 600 unidentified soldiers had been lay to rest.
Following foot-paths, we explored the actual trenches. During WWI these trenches formed five German lines used as defense to hold St Mihiel which the Germans had taken.
The trenches were narrow, steep, and provided little protection from the elements or from enemy attack. Soldiers would take turns sleeping in stone faced bunkers. We must imagine thousands of men in these spaces; muddy ground, blood-soaked earth, cold, and stench. The forests were barren; the trees you see are young, having been planted on the cratered terrain after the end of the war. Men fought one another with automatic weapons. They could literally toss a grenade into the enemy trench; facing death at every moment.
In attempt to regain St Mihiel, one of the French regiments successfully fought their way through four of the German trench lines. And then, stranded, they continued to battle for three days. The French had no supplies; food, water, or ammunition. Thus, the Trench of Thirst
. The French surrendered to the Germans at this battle. Hundreds of French and German lives were lost.
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Mounds of barbed-wire remain in the trenches now, 100-years after the end of WWI.[/caption]
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Facing the enemy, look-outs and machine gun posts along the trench.[/caption]
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Shrapnel from an artillery shell; we found 2 on the trail alongside the trench.[/caption]