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Follow in the footsteps of "Those of 14" based on the account by Maurice Genevoix

Follow in the footsteps of "Those of 14" based on the account by Maurice Genevoix
Credit : FamilleGenevoix

Description

This trail is a chance to follow in the footsteps of Maurice Genevoix and his comrades in the first months of the First World War.
As a young officer aged 24, he boarded the train at Châlons-en-Champagne station on 25 August 1914 with reinforcements for the 106th RI.
At the time, they did not know where their train was taking them…the violence and horror of the fighting, but also the friendship and brotherhood between companions.
He was discharged after being seriously injured on 25 April 1915.
He would deliver a moving account of his part in the war in his major work, “Ceux de 14” (“Those of 14”).

Technical Information

4x4
Difficulty
Not specified
Dist.
336 km
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Altimetric profile

Starting point

51000 Châlons-en-Champagne
Lat : 48.96206Lng : 4.36304

Steps

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1

Châlons-en-Champagne

25 August 1914: Sub-Lieutenant Maurice Genevoix is part of the detachment which leaves to join the 106th RI, hit hard by the Battle of the Frontiers during the German invasion of Belgium in August 1914. This detachment heads to the station, where it boards a train to Charny-sur-Meuse. This marks the start of the saga narrated by Maurice Genevoix in “Those of 14”, which we invite you to discover with this itinerary… "The order to depart struck like a thunderbolt: the city rushed around as if afraid of forgetting something (...) I was in the canteen when the order took me by surprise. I jumped up, crossed the avenue, and here I am, standing straight as a post in front of two rows of blue greatcoats and red trousers." (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

6 Avenue de Valmy 51000 Chalons-en-champagne
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2

Charny-sur-Meuse

Night of 25 to 26 August 1914 : Maurice Genevoix and the detachment of the 106th RI from Châlons-en-Champagne arrive at Charny-sur-Meuse station at one o’clock in the morning. They immediately begin marching. “we continue for another five or six kilometres, until Charny. It is one o’clock in the morning. In the tumult, opposite the doors of the trucks that seem to breathe heavily, the sections reform. And we begin marching, slowly, heavily”

16 Rue de la Gare 55100 Charny-sur-meuse
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3

Gercourt-Drillancourt

10 am on 27 August 1914 : Maurice Genevoix and his detachment join their regiment, the 106th RI. It’s hot and all the sections are resting along the main street of the village. The new arrivals are assigned to their companies. Sub-lieutenant Genevoix is assigned to the 7th company, under the command of Captain Bord (referred to as Captain “Rive” in the book). He meets Sub-lieutenant Porchon there. The 106th FI holds the south of Septsarges woods until 3 September, with the mission of preventing the German troops from passing through. It is a baptism of fire for Maurice Genevoix, who is caught in enemy fire several times. “My regiment arrives! Our reservists run as fast as they can towards the steep-sided road. They make a right racket…” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

1-5 D19 55110 Gercourt-et-drillancourt
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4

Montfaucon d'Argonne

3 September: Montfaucon is the starting point of the 106th RI’s retreat. Maurice Genevoix and Those of 14 form the rear guard of the regiment, and witness the start of fire on Montfaucon. It’s the end of any illusions about stopping the German troops in the Meuse. Since the enemy is overcoming the French army on the left, after crossing Belgium, General Joffe orders the withdrawal of all troops between the North of France and Argonne. The Verdun stronghold acts as a pivot for this movement, and is not affected by the withdrawal. This retreat also affects civilians, many of whom flee as the enemy approaches. “A distant detonation, one that I recognise: German heavy artillery. When the whistle blows, I immediately realise that the shell is coming straight towards us. I look at Montfaucon, and see, near the church, a tongue of fire and a plume of smoke rising up” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

D15A 55270 Montfaucon-d'argonne
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5

Brocourt-en-Argonne

3 September, end of the day: The retreat continues. Maurice Genevoix is sick and consults the Major’s assistant “Le Labousse”; the consultation takes place under the porch of the church with the other sick men, including one epileptic in the middle of a fit. The doctor “gives out white powder, tablets, opium pills, dabs bare chests with iodine tincture, and cuts into blood or pus-filled blisters with a scalpel.” Maurice Genevoix then has a restorative sleep for a few hours in the hay.

2 Rue Basse 55120 Brocourt-en-argonne
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6

Ville-sur-Cousances

4 September 1914: The 106th RI crosses the village. Maurice Genevoix sees general staff cars, requisitioned buses (for soldiers’ supplies), forest rangers and policemen. For the first time he wonders: “Is it a defeat?” He feels like they are heading towards Bar-le-Duc. The rumour of the day is a worrying one: “We’re going to Paris to keep order there”.

8 Rue de la Guillotte 55120 Ville-sur-cousances
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7

Fleury-sur-Aire

Friday 4 September 1914 : The 106th RI continues its retreat southwards, and stops at the edge of the village on the road to Nubécourt. Maurice Genevoix and Those of 14 eat their meal in a field, and a few soldiers even bathe in the Aire to cool down, oppressed by the heat. “We stop on the way out of Fleury-sur-Aire. Dozens of men arrive with huge quarters of a flat cheese” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

Route de Verdun 55250 Nubecourt
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8

Nubécourt

On Friday 4 September 1914, after stopping at Fleury, Maurice Genevoix and Those of 14 eat their evening meal in the village and spend the night there. He says that he drank “an unpleasant spoilt plonk that leaves an inky taste in the mouth”. He then sleeps on the straw in a barn with his men. Other features of interest in the village: grave of Raymond Poincaré (1860-1934), President of the Republic during the First World War.

1-3 Rue Antoine Tixier 55250 Nubecourt
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9

Rembercourt-Sommaisne

5 September 1914 : With the 106th RI, Maurice Genevoix crosses the village during the retreat. He looks at “the big, beautiful church” there. 7 September 1914: as part of the battle that started the day before, the 106th RI takes up its position near the village. This time, he describes how the village is bombarded by artillery and catches fire. “From three o’clock, German heavy artillery fires at Rembercourt. At five o’clock, the church catches fire. The red of the fire grows brighter as the darkness descends (…) I stayed for hours staring at this fire, with a heavy heart full of sorrow” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

1 Place Maurice Genevoix 55250 Rembercourt-sommaisne
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10

Champ de bataille de la Vaux-Marie

Fighting in La Vaux-Marie begins on 6 September and ends on 11 September. It takes place as part of the Battle of the Marne, on the far right of the front, with the aim of putting an end to the German advance. Maurice Genevoix and Those of 14 take part in this fighting, near the old Meusien railway, in collaboration with the 29th Battalion of Hunters. Night of 9 to 10 September: They suffer a violent attack during which Maurice Genevoix is nearly killed. At the end of the battle, the German army is defeated and repelled, at the cost of heavy losses. Of these 70 men, Maurice Genevoix finds only 21 left. This decisive victory stops the Germans’ attempt at encircling Verdun. After a few day’s rest, they pursue the enemy. The Battlefield: “…dark silhouettes loomed into view on the nearby ridge, barely visible in the dull sky. They were barely thirty metres away when I saw the tips of their helmets. So I ordered repeat fire, shouting at the top of my lungs.” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

La Vaux Mary 55260 Courcelles-sur-aire
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11

Seigneulles

12 and 13 September 1914: After the particularly murderous fighting at La Vaux-Marie, the 106th RI is sent to rest in Seigneulles. Maurice Genevoix and his section are stationed in a barn. In an official communication displayed on the village square, they learn of victory in Marne all along the front. He then realises the purpose of the retreat which took place in the days preceding the battle. The pursuit is about to begin. “But from the first line, one word leaps out at me, and makes my heart skip a beat. I can see nothing but that word; it is all there is in me; my unbridled imagination instantly turns it into something marvellous, immense and superhuman: “Victory!” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

Rue de la Fontaine 55000 Seigneulles
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12

Erize-la-Petite

Sunday13 September 1914 : the 106th RI , along with the VI Corps, passes through the village destroyed by enemy fire during the battle: “The entrance to the village, now barely more than a hamlet, was obstructed by cars, carts, and large hay rakes pulled to the side. We silently passed by the collapsed farmhouses. Nothing was left but sections of wall and twisted chimneys which had remained upright amid the devastation wreaked on the houses.”

13 Voie Sacrée 55220 Erize-la-petite
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13

Souilly

14 September 1914: the 106th RI marches through Souilly. The village is devoid of inhabitants, who have all fled the advancing Germans. “The houses are silent, yet they have not been demolished by shells: the melancholy of neglect, nearly as moving as the despair of the ruins.” The pursuit continues: Sivry-la-Perche, Thierville, Bras-sur-Meuse and Vacherauville are passed through quickly, ending in Louvemont. The Town Hall would become General Pétain’s HQ in 1916 during the Battle of Verdun, and the Voie Sacrée (“Sacred Way”), a vital artery used to carry supplies to Verdun from 1916 onwards, passed through the village.

25 Voie Sacrée 55220 Souilly
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14

Louvemont

17 September 1914: The arrival and stationing of Maurice Genevoix and Those of 14 in Louvemont marks the end of the pursuit. The German troops have withdrawn in an orderly manner. The front stabilises and comes to a standstill. At this point, neither of the two sides is aware of this. Maurice Genevoix and those of 14 hold a very uncomfortable, muddy position on the outskirts of the village, at the edge of Les Caures woods. Their stopover in Louvemont lasts until 20 September 1914. This village is one of the 9 villages destroyed in 1916 during the Battle of Verdun “That night, we had to take the outposts at the edge of Les Caures woods, and I was to spend two awful days of suffering and discouragement, two days that I want to remember as a weapon against trials to come” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

D905 55100 Louvemont-cote-du-poivre
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15

Fleury-Devant-Douaumont

20 September: The front grinds to a standstill and the warring armies fix their positions. Some strategic locations become tragic symbols of this static warfare. The 106th RI is then sent to Les Hauts de Meuse to stop the German troops from invading Verdun from the south. After leaving Louvemont, Maurice Genevoix and Those of 14 pass through the village of Fleury: “this morning, the regiment had an easy passage via Douaumont, Fleury and Eix, through a (…) and wooded area, where levees covered in grass stretched out in front of the forts, providing a glimpse of their crushed cupolas” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

1 Avenue Corps Européen 55100 Fleury-devant-douaumont
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16

Haudiomont

21 September 1914: Maurice Genevoix and his regiment continue with their march towards Les Hauts de Meuse. Haudiomont is one of the many villages they pass through at nightfall, all filled with soldiers. Their bags weigh heavy on their shoulders. They move along the road, with the 106th RI’s convoy comprising men, horses and horse-drawn carriages.

1 Rue du Château 55160 Haudiomont
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17

Mont-Villers (bonzée)

Maurice Genevoix and Those of 14 are stationed at Mont-sous-les-Côtes from mid-October to mid-December 1914. During this period, they alternate between the Calonne Crossroads (in reserve), which they reach by crossing the forest, Les Eparges, where they are in contact with the enemy, and resting at Mont. The line of fire is close (around 5km) and the frequent convoys of soldiers going to the Calonne trench, as well as the carts carrying the injured to the ambulance in Mouilly, are a constant reminder of this. “The departure?...Misery and misfortune! (…) the time has come to put on our tough marching clothes, buckle up our equipment, and press forth into the night.” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

2-18 Rue Gericote 55160 Bonzee
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18

Mouilly

Late September1914: Maurice Genevoix and Those of 14 are stationed in Mouilly. The village has the advantage of being very close to the strategic crossroads of Calonne, but is within firing range of the German artillery, which will lead the 106th RI to change to a different sector for stationing at rest. It is also the base for the ambulance, that is the health service unit in charge of administering first aid to injured soldiers from the Calonne trench and Les Eparges before evacuation. “slowly, hobbling along, more and more injured men return to the village. Dressings and bloody cotton pads pile up in the first aid posts, in the barns (…) we hear abrupt shouts through the open doors” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

1 Rue du Presbytère 55320 Mouilly
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19

Rupt-en-Woëvre

Description of the stationing system: The municipalities of Mont-sous-les-Côtes (Mont Villers), Mouilly, Rupt-en-Woëvre, Sommedieue, Belrupt-en-Verdunois and Dieue-sur-Meuse, are involved in the stationing phase between late September 1914 and April 1915. During this period, the static front line and difficult fighting mean the French command has to create a rota system described by Maurice Genevoix as follows: 3 days of rest in one of the above villages; 3 days on the second line at the Calonne Crossroads, and 3 days on the front line in Les Eparges. During stationing, the author describes a different aspect of warfare, involving rest and contact with the local people behind the front. This system enables the men to deal with the conflict, which is beginning to look like a long-term prospect. Rupt-en-Woëvre: “We go to Rupt, burdened with troops at rest, to try to win a place for our tired comrades” Maurice Genevoix describes the village as a place of rest. He attends a Christmas mass there in 1914, where he says a prayer: “Have pity on us, forced into war against our will, for us who were once men and despair of ever being so again” This village is one of the stages on the soldiers’ rota. The author describes stationing “with Mother Bourdier’ in particular.

17 La Grande Rue 55320 Rupt-en-woevre
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20

Verdun

Maurice Genevoix visited Verdun several times in February and April 1915. His officer status meant he was given leave for day trips. Indeed, travel within the Army zone was strictly controlled. During this period, there was no system for taking leave for multiple days, since the war was supposed to be a short one. During these trips, Maurice Genevoix visited Rue Mazel in particular, to go to the barber and the photographer Léon, known as “Monsieur Anselme” (in “Ceux de 14”, Editions Flammarion). He also has lunch at a restaurant adorned with a winged symbol, and takes the opportunity for a stroll along the banks of the Meuse, contemplating the houses’ reflections in the water. He sees a city still intact, before the destruction that took place in 1916.

40 Rue Mazel 55100 Verdun
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21

Belrupt-en-Verdunois

Maurice Genevoix and Those of 14 are stationed at rest in Belrupt from early February to 11 April 1915. As in the previous villages, they come to rest, after a reserve period at the Calonne Crossroads and fighting in Les Eparges. Here, they are vaccinated against typhoid fever and leave the village, after an obligatory trip to the Calonne Crossroads to take part in the large-scale, especially murderous attack on 17 February 1915 in Les Eparges.

2-12 Rue de la Fontaine 55100 Belrupt-en-verdunois
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22

Tranchée de Calonne

“The Calonne Crossroads” is the scene of some significant events. The 106th RI arrives there on 22 September 1914, and Maurice Genevoix narrowly escapes death during a shootout near here, on 24 September 1914. A bullet hits a button on his belt buckle! During this day, the German troops try to take over this part of Les Hauts de Meuse, in vain. The long list of injured Frenchmen described by Maurice Genevoix shows that this success came at a high price. Until April 1915, the regiment often visits the crossroads. Men are posted there in reserve, between the line of fire at Les Eparges and rest time in the villages of the Meuse Valley. They stay in the trenches, which are sheltered and covered with logs. 25 April 1915: Maurice Genevoix is seriously injured near the crossroads, during an intervention by the 106th RI to stop the Germans, who have managed to break through a French front line. 7 months of treatment ensue. After being discharged, Maurice Genevoix goes on to write Ceux de 14. As well as giving an account of his experience as a soldier, he also expresses his wish to ensure the soldiers who fought in the first months of the war are not forgotten. “ - Get down! There’s a gap! They can see us!” Too late: I fell on one knee onto hard, dry ground, and something hit my arm. (…) I saw my arm shudder under the impact of a second bullet (…) and before my very eyes, a strip of fabric flew up, under the muffled impact of a third bullet.” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

D331 55320 Mouilly
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Points of interest

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Les Eparges

Autumn 1914 and April 1915: Maurice Genevoix and Those of 14 pay frequent visits to the village and the hill that overlooks it. The French general staff is interested in this strategic position, a very good lookout point over the Woëvre plain, over which they are fighting with the Germans. This sector is essential for control of Les Hauts de Meuse. The men always stop by the village before going to the front, in the trenches, on the hill. In the village, the soldiers hide in the houses during the day, to escape the German marksmen. Maurice Genevoix takes refuge in the town hall or the presbytery, which he shares with his friend Porchon. Each time they stay there, they see the village fall further into disrepair and the livestock being slaughtered in the surrounding fields. The most violent fighting takes place on the hill on 17 February 1915. Maurice Genevoix leads 120 men and comes back with 17 unscathed. Porchon meets with death there; his grave is at the Trottoir national necropolis at the foot of the Eparges ridge. “The last shell that fell on shell-hole 7 hit Porchon in the head (…) Rolland tells me all about it (…): come down, mate. You’re being a fool… and he comes down. And he gets to the bottom of the tunnel, just level with the first aid post... And that’s where a 77 killed him” (Quote from the book by Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14, Editions Flammarion)

8 Rue Van Wezel 55160 Les Éparges
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Caution!
We have no information on the difficulty of this circuit. You may encounter some surprises along the way. Before you go, please feel free to inquire more and take all necessary precautions. Have a good trip! 🌳🥾