Vandals Violate Memory of Battle of Verdun, Defile Markers Along La Voie Sacrée
Vandals have defiled four commemoration markers on the 54km Voie Sacrée, that runs from Bar-le-Duc to Verdun, and is sacred to the memory of the 1.5 million Frenchmen who died in the most horrific conflagration in modern European history.
The desecration comes as “The Great War Remembered” or “1418Remembered”, the joint European project designed as a remembrance of the centenary of the outbreak of war on 28 July 1914, rolls out in Northern France and elsewhere in European theatres.
Yet reaction has been muted to the despoiling of what one report described as “a momentous site in French memory” . Only l’Est Républicain, a local newspaper reported the crime, describing it as a “massacre”.
The paper had been tipped off by M. Jérôme Nicolas who heads Association du Musée de la Voie Sacrée a group currently completing a museum to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Verdun and due to open in 2016.
(NOTE: M. Nicolas welcomes donations or loans of any memorabilia such as photos of Souilly, soldiers’notebooks, etc relevant to the battle. He can be contacted here: Tel: 06 75 82 81 29 and email.)
La Voie sacrée or Voie sacrée nationale (The Sacred Way) is an historic road between Bar-le-Duc and Verdun, now renumbered RD1916 in memory of the Battle of Verdun for which it served as the strategic and principal supply artery:
La Voie Sacrée par memoirarchives
There was no TV reporting of the crime and the Socialist government in Paris has remained embarrassingly silent about the vandalising of a route which French war historians suggest symbolises above all, the enormous human sacrifice made by France in World War 1 .It is also a significant place of memorial pilgrimage for Americans. For in 1918 Souilly, a village on the Sacred Way, was not only the GHQ of Marshal Henri-Philippe Pétain, the hero of Verdun, but also of Gen John J Pershing, commander of US forces in the War. Indeed Pershing’s hometown Laclede in Missouri is twinned with Souilly.
Contacted by French News Online M. Nicolas said he had reported the vandalism to local gendarmes shortly after it occurred on May 19 but police remain baffled about a motive. “They think it may be metal thieves, or instigated by some collector for whom the price of war souvenirs is rising due to the interest created by the centenary” he said. Local politicians including Christian Namy (President of the area’s Conseil Général), have expressed anger at the desecration but national political figures have yet to speak up despite the evident international symbolism of the site or even the more mercenary concerns of the French National Tourism Office. They recently reported for instance that more than 6.2 million visitors (55% of them French) are expected to make pilgrimages to memorial sites across northern France this year generating 45 million euros in revenues and sustaining 1000 jobs.
Concerned at the lack of any significant national public outrage M. Nicolas said he contacted the office of the secrétaire d’Etat auprès du Ministre de la Défense, chargé des Anciens Combattants — the secretary of state for War Veterans at the Defence Ministry. “They told me that the reason for the very low key response to the vandalism of what veterans’ families regard as one of France’s most sacred sites –a tomb to national heroes — was due to the overwhelming focus media and politicians today place on “mémoire de droits de l’homme” or memory of events that contravene human rights over “mémoire identitaire” or the memory of the French nation state, its values, culture and history.
Others believe that the fact that while Marshal Henri-Philippe Pétain, the Lion of Verdun, was the First World War hero of the Battle of Verdun, his reputation today remains sullied by his role as leader of Vichy in the Second World War. He died under sentence in a prison fortress. This has led to various military and political lobbies fighting hard to play down his Verdun role (due to the later Vichy blemish on his record) and hence manipulate a vital part of the history of the Great War to which Marshal Pétain made an undeniably heroic contribution).
Story: Ken Pottinger
(Hat tip: Galliawatch)
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