Memories from both wars

Nouvron is a small village about 15 kilometres to the north-west of Soissons. It sits astride the D 17 and can be accessed from either Vezaponin (On the D 6 from Soissons to Noyon) or more interestingly from the N 31 main road from Soissons to Compiègne

On the outskirts of the village on the way from Fontenoy is a small and rather battered looking memorial connecting the area to both World Wars.

The stone was recovered by farmers and placed here near the front line. It is very faded but commemorates the soldiers of the 66è RIT (Territorial Regiment - which would have been made up of men over 35 years old who had already undertaken both their periods of military service and time in the reserve).

Normally the Territorials would not have been used in front line combat but necessity sometimes required their presence.

The fighting here in the early stages of the war was extremely heavy as the French tried to gain the plateau. By 1915 the situation had settled and the front line passed right through the village of Nouvron for three years.

The Fontenoy Memorial stone

A second plaque commemorates the fact that between 1939-1945 the plateau was code named Terrain Guignol by the allies, and that on 5 April, 10 May and 12 June 1944 the Royal Air Force dropped weapons for the Resistance.

The Ferme de Confrécourt

Further up on the plateau there are chalk quarries (creutes in the local language - boves in Arras). These are located near the Ferme de Confrécourt - which is signposted. As you come to the farm the road forks and down the left hand fork you will see a small clump of trees.

la Croix Brisée

Within is the famous Broken Cross memorial - la Croix Brisée. This was erected by the owner of the farm: Jean, Marquis de Croix in 1929 and bears the family crest. It is intended to symbolise the suffering of all the Frenchmen who fought on the Confrécourt plain.

The Cross has Fallen. Christ is alive.

Note the Demarcation Stone just in front of the memorial.

These were normally placed by the French/Belgian Touring Clubs and marked the point where the enemy was stopped in 1918. This one however was bought privately by the Marquis from the workshops of the masons: Moreau Vauthier. It was placed in 1929 along with the Cross and thus two years after after the official stones had been inaugurated.

It is in fact the showroom model - the first made but the last to be placed !


Attacking the position

Following the 1st Battle of the Marne in September 1914 the Germans were forced to retire (The beginnings of the Race to the Sea). On the 11th September German soldiers passed through the farm, but despite preparing it for defence continued their retreat. During the night French Chasseurs Alpins took possession of the farm which was subsequently bombarded the following day.

For the next week the 1st Battle of the Aisne raged in and around the area. The Germans took Vingré and start a drive towards Nouvron.

The local commander: General Vautier ordered a withdrawl to the Aisne which he felt could be better defended but he found himself countermanded by General Maunoury who not only insisted that the plateau be held but ordered those who had already come down to the Aisne to turn around and - get back up there again.

Confrécourt was soon back in the firing line and 400 French soldiers held out valiantly against far superior numbers. It was a mini Rourke's Drift with the Germans at one point reaching within just a few metres of the farm.

The dead were piling high both within and without the farm buildings which were taking a heavy pounding. For three hours the defenders fought tooth and nail to hang on to their positions.

A battery of the famous French 75mm Canons arrived and began opening up the German ranks, before a battalion of Chasseurs (Light Infantry) arrived on the scene and together with the remaining defenders launched a bayonet attack forcing the Germans back.

The farm was safely in French hands but at high cost. The 327è RI (The reserve regiment for the 127è RI - 127+200=327) suffered 2183 killed and wounded out of a total strength of 3000.

The war of trenches began and on the 16th September the 216è RI began installing themselves in and around the underground quarries. A field dressing station was set up with the ability to cope with a maximum of 400 patients. It didn't take long for this shelter to be nicknamed: the hospital.

One of the other quarries became known as the 1er Zouaves and was able to shelter 300 men.

As a safe haven from the outside world these quarries became a source of tranquillity for the soldiers who began carving the walls and creating sculptures.

The two sides having dug in the area became comparatively quiet which may explain why the 66è RIT were in the line.

During their Spring offensive of 1918, the Germans were halted here when they tried to break through in June - the French once again hanging on to every metre of ground.

Finally on 20 August 1918 the entire plateau was finally cleared by General Mangin's troops.

It is possible to visit the quarries by making prior arrangements. To reach the quarry you continue down this same road - which fast becomes a track and then something that would hobble a goat.

To move on in your tour I would suggest that the better course of action is to return to the farm and turn left, back on to the D 2020. This will bring you down a steep slope into the small village of Vingré.


Memorials to soldiers shot at dawn

In the two villages of Vingré and Fontenoy are memorials to French soldiers shot for petty reasons or just as an arbitrary example to others.

Shot to encourage the others Vingré : Shot to encourage the others
Shot for not wearing a dead friends trousers Fontenoy : Shot for not wearing a dead friend's trousers