Magazine article History Today

Lost Villages of Champagne: Kathryn Hadley Discusses the Fate of Several Villages Destroyed in the First World War, Now on Military Territory Usually Inaccessible to the Public

Magazine article History Today

Lost Villages of Champagne: Kathryn Hadley Discusses the Fate of Several Villages Destroyed in the First World War, Now on Military Territory Usually Inaccessible to the Public

Article excerpt

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This month on November 11th, the military authorities of the department of the Marne will open the army training estate of Suippes in an attempt to preserve the forgotten stories of the lost villages of the Champagne-Ardenne region. From September 1914 to 1918, in the midst of the horrific battles of the First World War, the five villages of Hurlus, Perthe-les-Hurlus, le Mesnil-les-Hurlus, Tahure and Ripont and the two farms of Navarin and La Ferme de Beausejour, which were all on, or near, the frontline for at least part of the war, were totally destroyed. Their inhabitants fled, never to return.

In accordance with the law of April 17th, 1919, the French state bought various tracts of land on the sites of First World War frontline areas, which were considered too dangerous and too expensive to redevelop due to the presence of unexploded weapons. The area comprising the five villages was designated a 'zone rouge and turned over to the French army as a military training ground, covering an area larger than Paris. The villages were never rebuilt. Today, the landscape remains scarred with trenches and crater mines. Only a few remaining walls and ruins of the local churches serve as a painful and intriguing reminder of the destroyed villages' lives.

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In Tahure, for example, little remains other than the altar of the village church. Tahure comprised 185 inhabitants, according to the 1911 census. In 1942, a law effectively suppressed the existence of the village and linked its property to a neighbouring parish, which was to be nominated in the near future. The decree of June 14th 1950 subsequently linked the parish of Tahure to Sommepy by combining the names of the two villages; Sommepy became known as Sommepy-Tahure.

However, these villages of the Marne were not the sole victims of the ravages of the First World War. …

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