The Mont des Singes (Aisne) after the apocalypse

The Mont des Singes (Aisne) after the apocalypse

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Title: Devastated landscape around Ailette and Mont des Singes (Picardy).

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1917

Date shown: 1917

Dimensions: Height 6 - Width 13

Technique and other indications: Silver print.

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown website

Picture reference: 05-533922 / 2005.30.20

Devastated landscape around Ailette and Mont des Singes (Picardy).

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown

Publication date: October 2007

Historical context

A site plowed and turned over by the Great War

The photograph presented shows in a very crude way the consequences of the fighting which took place on the Chemin des Dames between 1914 and 1918. The photograph dates from 1917, the year of the Nivelle offensive, but this destruction is also the result of an accumulation: the Mont des Singes was a place beaten and rebuilt by the belligerents. The place then found itself at the heart of the French spring offensive of 1917: located less than fifteen kilometers from Soissons, and some four kilometers north of the infamous Moulin de Laffaux, it was on the way to

French troops to Laon (at least according to the April 16 letter of plans).

Finally, the resumption of the war of movement from the spring of 1918 further added to the trauma suffered, with the last German and then Allied offensives. Due to the intensive shelling that accompanied this succession of battles, and in particular the battles of 1917 and 1918, the site was turned upside down.

Image Analysis

How men destroy the forest

The degree of devastation seen in the photograph is comparable to that produced by a high intensity hurricane. Testimonies, especially from peasants, often speak of the feeling of waste experienced in the face of the incredible outrages suffered by the fertile lands of Picardy or Champagne. As for the place studied here, the scenery around Laffaux in the immediate post-war period was based on information firsthand by Roland Dorgelès. The words chosen by the writer agree in a striking way with the photograph taken at Mont des Singes, in fact very close: "a large ravine was hollowed out there, its slopes covered with trees, most of which were reduced to a stump, or else uprooted and lying down in the brushwood. The gases had poisoned many, all the firs were dead ”(R. Dorgelès, The awakening of the dead, p. 29). The means employed to achieve this result are unparalleled in power at the time, and constitute an anthropological threshold crossing in the long history of the forms of war violence. Because the image should not mislead the observer: the targets here were indeed men and not trees. To be sure, there is no visible trace of combatants who were present at or near the site, but their presence is beyond probable. As in filigree of the cliché, they give it a human depth and a disturbing emotional weight.


From Desolation to Reconstruction

This landscape of war, the theater of fighting, remains unchanged when the clash of arms ceases. It then becomes part of an ensemble painfully in tune with ruins of dwellings, gutted roads, destroyed fields and orchards. At the end of 1918, on the Chemin des Dames as in the other hardest-hit places of the front, the time of hostilities gave way to that of reconstruction. The extent of the damage is immeasurable, and the area bathed by the Ailette between Laffaux and Berry-au-Bac has been classified, more or less permanently, as a "red zone". This administrative name is based on visual assessment criteria, somewhat on the model of the Richter scales for earthquakes or Beaufort for wind. The affected municipalities or individuals thus have a right to compensation, as well as the means to rehabilitate damaged areas. But, despite years of hard work, the places most battered by war will forever bear the scars of the ordeal they endured. Nowadays, the absence on the Chemin des Dames of a medieval heritage such as that possessed by other French regions reiterates, just like these pieces of shells and barbed wire that are found in quantity in the fields. and forests, the story of the suffering endured there between 1914 and 1918.

  • battles
  • Ladies' Way
  • War of 14-18
  • ruins
  • campaign


Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004.Denis DEFENTE (ed.) Le Chemin des dames, 1914-1918Paris, Somogy, 2003.Roland DORGELESThe awakening of the deadParis, Albin Michel , 1923.René Gustave NOBECOURT The infantrymen of the chemin des damesParis, Robert Laffont, 1965.Nicolas OFFENSTADT (dir.) The Chemin des dames, of the event in memoryParis, Stock, 2004.

To cite this article

François BOULOC, "The Mont des Singes (Aisne) after the apocalypse"

Video: Apocalypse


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