A friend's wedding in Austria provided the perfect excuse to visit a part of the front that was completely unknown to me. Alsace and the Vosges mountains are poorly covered in English language guide books. "Before Endeavours Fade" ignores the region, but many of the sites are individually mentioned in one of the volumes of A.J. Peacock's "Alternative Guide to the Western Front". However, the area is described in the "Premiere Guerre Mondiale des Flandres a l'Alsace". I also used the two volumes of the 1919 French language Michelin Guide "l'Alsace et les Combats des Vosges".
En route to Alsace: the Haute-Marne and Haute-Saone
En route we passed through the small town of Chaumont in the Haute-Marne. Damremont Barracks which can be found in the north of the town was the location of the Head Quarters of the AEF from 1 September 1917 to 11 July 1919. Just to the left of the main entrance is a large bronze plaque which commemorates this fact. "American Armies and Battlefields in Europe" contains a picture of the plaque (p. 482) and an aerial photo of the barracks (p. 494).
Further east in the Haute-Saone is the small spa town of Luxeuil-les-Bains. It had a slight air of having seen better days, and this reminded me of certain British seaside resorts. Most of the town, particularly the squares near the fine church, is built out of a red sandstone which was equally reminiscent of parts of northern England and Scotland.
However, my real reason for visiting Luxeuil was to find some evidence of the Lafayette Squadron that is pictured in "Icare", Revue de l'Aviation Francaise no. 160, L'Escadrille Lafayette Vol. 2. On the wall of the Hotel de Ville is a plaque which recalls that the squadron was stationed in the town when it was officially received into the French Army on 20 April 1916. The military plot in the communal cemetery contains the grave of Kiffin Rockwell, a pilot with the squadron who was shot down on 23 September 1916. Unusually for a French military grave it has a large plaque mounted on it which states that he was born in Newport Tennessee on 20 September 1892 and was a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur as well as a holder of the Medaille Militaire and Croix de Guerre. It also has a quote by him: "la cause de la France est la cause de l'Humanite".
Copyright © Charles Fair, July, 1997.
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