Sacred Way – Historic Route
The Sacred Way is the name of a historic route!
This route indeed enabled the transport of troops and the delivery of equipment and supplies during the Battle of Verdun in 1916.
In 1916, the writer and MP Maurice Barrès named it after the antic Via Sacra.
The Via Sacra was the triumphal way the victorious Roman generals and their armies entered Rome when returning from battle.
President Raymond Poincaré inaugurated the Sacred Way on August 21, 1922.
A major road during WWI, it was classified as Route Nationale (RN) on December 30, 1923.
It retained this status until 2006.
It was then re-classified as a Route Départementale (RD) and renamed RD1916 to pay tribute to the Year 1916.
Bollards border it every 75kms.
They are topped with WWI helmets and inscribed with the letters NVS – Nationale Voie Sacrée.
President Raymond Poincaré sealed the first bollard during the inauguration of the Sacred Way.
This first bollard is located in Bar-le-Duc, where it marks the start of the historic road.
The Sacred Way is today a major north-south axis of the Meuse department and links Verdun to Bar-le-Duc.
Sacred Way, the logistics center of the Battle of Verdun
The Sacred Way was THE communication road that linked to the front.
The Sacred Way was indeed the logistics and strategic center of the Battle of Verdun!
The Germans encircled Verdun in 1914 and consequently isolated the citadel in the center of a salient.
The main French communication lines therefore had to cross the German lines and were directly exposed to enemy fire.
The opening of an access route to the front became imperative for the French!
The man behind such road was captain Doumenc.
Doumenc was already known for his highly successful operation known as Taxis of the Marne.
He indeed commandeered Parisian taxis to drive Infantry reinforcement troops from Paris to the Battle of the Marne on September 6-7, 1914.
In February 1916, on the eve of the deadly Battle of Verdun, Doumenc worked out that 2,000 tons of equipment and 12,000 men could be safely sent every day to the front via a purposely built access road.
Construction of the Sacred Way
Thus, workmen teams worked tirelessly, day and night, month after month, in order to build, maintain and consolidate this major highway, where thousands of troops, supplies and materials transited.
They worked along carriers, who extracted the stones necessary for the road’s foundations from careers they opened on the roadside.
Various trades, such as mechanics and blacksmiths – among others – were also needed.
All these men transformed the neighbouring villages into a gigantic construction site!
The Sacred Way had obviously to be protected from German air attacks, a task delegated to the Air Force pilots.
A whole infrastructure was thus set up.
The road was used 24/7 in order to ensure a quick turnaround on the front, namely delivering fresh troops and regular supply of food, weaponry and equipment.
Troops arrived by train in the village of Baudonvilliers.
They were then sent by truck (every 14 seconds or 5 seconds when necessary) to Le-Moulin-Brûlé, in the municipality of Nixeville.
From there they joined the front, walking the last 8km at night, while carrying their heavily loaded gear.
Le-Moulin-Brûlé stood at the junction of the roads that linked Verdun to Argonne and Bar-le-Duc.
This crossroads was especially re-laid out to facilitate the turning of trucks.
The troops nicknamed Le Tourniquet – the turnstile.
A dressing station, with 2 doctors and 2 nurses, opened on site in order to facilitate the evacuation of the 800,000 wounded soldiers during the six months that lasted the battle.
Those were evacuated by truck, horse-drowned carriage, car, train, on man’s arm or simply on foot, according to the severity of their injuries.
Three trains with a capacity of 300 men departed everyday from Maison Rouge, a tiny station located 2km away along the road to Verdun.
The Sacred Way was really operational 24/7, but was reserved to the exclusive use of convoys!
Broken down vehicles were therefore immediately pushed into the ditch in order to avoid traffic congestion.
In summer of 1916, some 90,000 men and 50,000 tons of equipment and supplies circulated along the highway.
Seventy of the 95 French divisions that participated in the Battle of Verdun traveled on the Sacred Way.
The Sacred Way was an endless chain of transport!
Sacred Way Memorial
Le-Moulin-Brûlé crossroads or Tourniquet is the exact spot where the troops arrived by truck.
From where they set off for the front.
It was therefore the perfect site to build a memorial.
This Train National Federation commissioned this monument at the request of the rail associations of Lorraine.
It was unveiled on May 14, 1947.
It is dedicated to all the men, who day and night, for endless months, laboured tirelessly in order to ensure the 24/7 transport of troops, food, weaponry and equipment to the front.
The sculptor Barrois and the architect Schmitt designed the gigantic monument.
It consists of a white stone arched wall, centered on an obelisk.
A frieze of low reliefs adorned it on the whole length.
It depicts the soldiers who laboured on the Sacred Way, but also locomotives, cars, trains and carriages of all sorts.
The center of the frieze bears a dedication from the rail associations to their veterans:
“Le train à ses anciens, à tous ceux de la Voie Sacrée”
The obelisk is crowned with a winged wheel, one of the elements of the French rail’s logo.
Its shaft symbolizes the path followed by the men on their way to and from the front.
A commemorative slab was affixed in 2007 in order to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the rail’s logo.
The Plateau de Moulin-Brûlé boasts prime views of the surroundings.
An orientation table helps you work out the location of the former sectors of the Battle of Verdun.
Free access – Free admission
Other sites of the Battle of Verdun:
Citadel of Verdun – Douaumont Ossuary and National Cemetery – Abri 320 – Bayonet Trench – Fort of Douaumont – Fleury-devant-Douaumont “Village Détruit – Maginot Monument in Fleury-devant-Douaumont
Department of Meuse – Grand Est region
Coordinates: Lat 49.123286 – Long 5.295498