Chemin des Dames

Berry au Bac French Military Cemetery

CWGC Plot

This cemetery is easily located following the signs from the village. Just on the southern side of the Aisne bridge near Côte 108 you turn off towards Gernicourt on the D1140. Within a few hundred metres the cemetery will be immediately in front of you.

It should also be pointed out that this is the Departmental boundary so road numbers can suddenly change (One of the inconveniences of having Departmental numbering). The main road which used to be the National 44 is now the D 1044 in the Aisne and the D 944 south of the bridge in the Marne.

The explanation panel

The explanation panel at the entrance to the cemetery

Created during the war the cemetery was formerly called the Cimetière Militaire de Moscou after a nearby farm on the main road. It was designated a National Cemetery in 1925 (That is the State became responsible for its upkeep).

It is situated opposite the areas of Côte 108 and Sapigneul where French forces were heavily involved during the Nivelle offensive of 1917.

It is now the resting place of 3 933 French soldiers killed in this area. 1 958 of these soldiers lie in two ossuaries at the top of the cemetery. Most of these men are unidentified.

The cemetery is a consolidation cemetery bringing in the remains of soldiers from many of the smaller cemeteries in the area - some of which would have been German in origin.

Amongst the graves you will also find six Russians (The Russian Brigade also fought at Sapigneul) and a Belgian.

On the right hand side there is a large plot of 30 British soldiers.

 
Mont Sapigneul

The silo acts as a good landmark along the main road
The hill behind is Mont Sapigneul

 
Julius Soens

Julius Soens
AB 25
Died on 10 February 1918

Soens was almost certainly a forced labourer caught up in the fighting.

Grave: 1774

2è Génie

To the memory of
The Sapeurs of the
2è Génie (2nd Engineers)

This small memorial is situated at the top of the cemetery on the right hand side under the trees.

 

The CWGC Plot

The CWGC Plot

The Commonwealth graves from the 1914-18 War were all brought in after the Armistice. Of these, over half from the 1914-18 War are unidentified. All fell on the 27th-29th May 1918, in the Battle of the Aisne.

In the north-eastern part is a plot containing the graves of two unknown British soldiers of the 1939-1945 War and 29 British graves of the 1914-1918 War.

Only 12 of these graves are identified. Nine of them are from the 12/13th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers.

I Have photographs of all the graves.

 
Private W Crawford

Private W Crawford 66810
12/13th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers
Died on 29th May 1918 aged 18
Son of John and Mary Crawford, of 37 Doncaster Rd, Barnsley

Grave: 20

Private R Johnson

Private R Johnson 60774
12/13th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers
Died on 27th May 1918 aged 18
Son of Mrs Ann Johnson, of 18 Camden St, Boulevard, Hull, and the late Arthur Johnson

Grave: 18

On the 27th May 1918 The 12/13th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers were holding the front line on the opposite side of the Canal to where you are now. They were in 64th Brigade, part of the 21st Division.

The French General Duchène was in command of the sector and contrary to the advised policy of General Pétain insisted on having his front line fully occupied. He had no intention of fighting in Forward and Battle Zones which was the accepted plan of defence.

When the Germans launched Operation Blücher that morning the French and British found themselves overwhelmed by artillery and an infantry superiority of up to five to one.

Duchène's error of insisting that the German side of the canal be held in defence was almost a disaster. Luckily although the Chemin des Dames fell within hours the area around Reims (Only a few kilometres away from this cemetery) was less severely attacked and the French 45th Division held and helped form a solid pivoting right flank for the retiring British.

For more information about the British part in this area visit the Monument to the 2nd Bn Devonshire Regiment in the Ville aux Bois Lès Pontavert.

2nd Bn Devons: May 1918 2nd Bn Devons: May 1918
 

A short drive up the main road will take you to the Berry-au-Bac Tank Memorial.

The French Tank Monument The French Tank Monument

The area that the Northumberland Fusiliers had been defending had seen a great deal of fighting during the Nivelle Offensive in 1917. It was also the cause of the one of the major mutinies of the French Army.

Sapigneul 1917 Sapigneul 1917 and the 128è RI Mutiny