Types of remains of the Great war

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In towns and country alike, many traces of the Great War are still visible in Northern France today. These remains, which are often disregarded and sometimes even forgotten, bear witness to the atrocity of the fighting and the sacrifice of the men who were involved in it.

There are various kinds of remains:

-    Battlefield landscapes. Today no large sectors of the war of position remain, redevelopment, the Reconstruction and time having done away with the trenches and cratered fields. However just below the layer of fertile soil lies a historic landscape which can still be interpreted provided one knows how to do so.

-    Underground passages and quarries. Arras is a key location for these although there are other examples in Vimy, Loos and Fromelles.

-    "Historic sites". The military headquarters, La Pierre d’Haudroy (Nord).

-    Military cemeteries and memorials. There are hundreds of military cemeteries scattered all over the Northern France, built at various times and for different reasons. Some were created during the conflict, close to the front, while others were linked to the hospitals in the rear and yet more were established after the war in an effort to concentrate the graves of the small cemeteries on the front lines. These cemeteries were designed to be elements for national commemoration, as well as a way to help families in the grieving process.

The individual graves look different depending on the countries they represent, but they all follow the same principle: equal remembrance in recognition of equal sacrifice. The British gave their gravestones the same shape, whilst in the French, American and German cemeteries the shapes were determined by religious allegiance (Latin cross, headstone with a Star of David or crescent).
The gravestones were engraved with the surname, first name, rank, unit and date of death. The French added “Mort pour la France” (Died for France) while the British included regimental insignia, enrolment number, age, and at the bottom three lines of text chosen by the family.

Each British cemetery has three common elements: the Cross of Sacrifice, the Stone of Remembrance and the visitor shelter where the burial register and a visitors’ book is kept.

Ossuaries were often built to mark the mass graves in which unidentified soldiers were buried.

-    Commemorative monuments.

-    Buildings of the Reconstruction

Yves LE MANER,
Director of La Coupole
History and Remembrance Centre of Northern France