This week’s journey takes us back to one of the most remarkable historic sites we’ve ever visited: the chalk-filled trenches of La Main de Massiges. This restored World War I battlefield offers a truly unique and sobering glimpse into life – and death – on the Western Front.
Situated atop a large plateau with expansive views over the French countryside, the “hand of Massiges” – a name derived from its likeness to a left hand pressed flat into the landscape (see map below) – is located 2.5 hours northeast of Paris, just to the east of where the Champagne Front joined the Argonne Front during WWI. Deadly fighting took place here between French and German forces throughout 1914 and 1915, with heavy casualties inflicted on both sides as each took position on the heights of the plateau:
“At this site the funnels of the fighting mines can still be seen. The principle consisted of digging underground galleries up to the enemy’s trenches, then of placing an explosive charge in the mine furnace before setting it off. This would create a crater or even a funnel, of varying size depending on the explosive charge, which would shake the enemy trench, burying alive any men who happened to be in there.” (centenaire.org)
After the war, local farmers filled in the trenches and the site was gradually overgrown with bushes, brambles and grasses. In 2008, an association was formed to safeguard and preserve the battlefield’s heritage. A year later, a team of volunteers began to excavate and recreate the trenches, finding in their depths weapons, ammunition, and personal items, as well as human remains. Battlements, shelters and barbed wire networks were reconstructed, and a monument erected to the memory of those who fought and died here.
We visited Massiges on a late afternoon in October 2017. The site is private property and unmanned, but open to the public (under certain conditions) from 9:00am to 7:00pm, March to November. We had the area entirely to ourselves during our visit, and spent nearly two hours exploring the trenches and tunnels at our leisure. While the photographs below capture only a small fraction of the hand’s scope and depth, we hope you’ll enjoy this journey into the past through our lens…
“Trench of German origin conquered by the 23rd Colonial Infantry Regiment on 25 September 1915, then redeveloped as a trench for the French 1st line. (September-October 1915)”
“Here was found an unidentified French soldier (colonial infantry), October 2012”
“The suffering of men”
Thank you for joining us on this adventure in France! – T. & B. June
Next week’s journey: Keukenhof Gardens – Netherlands