World War I Section
Bayonet Trench in Douaumont – Verdun WWI
Bayonet Trench's discovery
Bayonet Trench is located on the north facing slope of the Ravin de la Dame, a few hundred meters north of the Douaumont Necropolis.
Bayonet Trench is a war memorial, however, an unusual memorial.
It indeed honours the memory the French soldiers, who were buried alive in their trench after a shell explosion during the Battle of Verdun on June 12, 1916.
The only clue that led to the discovery of their bodies was the tip of their bayonets sticking out of the ground!
Colonel Collet, the commander of the 137 Regiment of Infantry, discovered the trench in 1919, when he returned to the area where his unit fought.
He noticed that some rifles, many with their bayonets intact, stuck out of the ground.
The trench was in an area particularly targeted by shelling.
It was a tragic reminder of the violence of the fighting that took place there.
His discovery triggered intense emotion among the public and made the headlines.
Commander Colled therefore wished to erect a memorial on the site.
The American George Rand was greatly moved by this tragic discovery.
He immediately funded the construction of the memorial designed by the architect André Ventre.
The Tranchée des Fusils - Rifles Trench, as it was initially known, was renamed Tranchée de Baïonnettes - Bayonet Trench.
The memorial was inaugurated on December 8, 1920.
The discovery of the Bayonet Trench obviously revived the tragic memories of the war.
However, it also triggered a huge controversy between veterans, who fought at Verdun, and officers of the Etat Major, who were monitoring the progress of the battle from a remote location.
The skeptics, mostly WWI Veterans, considered the story to be a complete myth, triggered by the intense emotion felt after the war.
They said that the force of the shell explosion alone was not powerful enough to bury an entire trench – men included.
The excavations, which took place in 1920, uncovered 47 bodies, among which 14 could be identified.
The veterans also argued that the soldiers were not buried alive, but were already dead at the time of their burial.
They indeed claimed that the custom was to bury the dead as quickly as possible in disused trenches of the battlefield.
They also said that the custom was to leave the tips of their bayonets visible, in order to identify the site later and move their bodies to a decent burial ground.
The thing that could support their argument is that no document of the time seems to mention that a whole unit was buried alive after a shell explosion on this sector.
We might never know the truth about what took place on June 12, 1916 in the Bayonet Trench.
However, one thing is sure, the battle was a living hell!
Bayonet Trench Memorial
The imposing memorial was entirely built of concrete.
The monumental entrance is located right by the road and leads to a series of long steps that take up to the trench.
The first thing you notice, as you walk up, is the gigantic cross on the wall facing you.
The monument consists of a massive concrete slab supported by massive pillars.
The shelter protects the trench.
The white wooden crosses are aligned and stand next to tiny concrete slabs.
You are not sure what to look for at first, then it suddenly hits you!
The tip of a bayonet emerges from each tiny concrete slab.
Each cross marks the place where a soldier was once buried...
Free access - Free admission
Tip: You can leave your car in the parking lot of Douaumont Necopolis; walk down to the Bayonet Trench. It takes 5/10mn.
Other sites of the Battle of Verdun
Citadel of Verdun - Sacred Way – Douaumont Ossuary and National Cemetery – Abri 320 – Fort of Douaumont - Fleury-devant-Douaumont "Village Détruit - Maginot Monument in Fleury-devant-Douaumont
Department of Meuse - Lorraine region - Grand Est
Coordinates: Lat 49.214116 - Long 5.425586