END OF AUGUST 1914 : THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE FRENCH ARMY
After the declaration of war, on August 3, 1914, Germany invades the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Belgium.
On August 22, 1914, General Joffre, commander-in-chief of the French army, launched a major attack in the south of Belgium, between Mons and Arlon, to push back the German troops. General Langle de Cary’s 4th Army takes part in this « Battle of the Frontiers » in the sector Virton. The offensive ends in a massive defeat for the French and a loss of more than 50,000 men.
The retreat of the French army to the river Marne, between August 26 and September 4, 1914, across the departments of Meuse, Ardennes and Aisne proves to be murderous as well. However, the French army command wants to slow down the German advance. Over the span of 10 days, 40,000 French soldiers lose their lives.
On the morning of August 30, the French 4th Army is already pushed back on the Vouziers-Grandpré line. A French reconnaissance flight observes a German army corps near Oches.
The evening of August 30, the Germans take the villages of Saint-Pierremont and Sommauthe.
The French army command decides to mount an attack to push the Germans back.
31st OF AUGUST 1914 IN FONTENOIS
On August 31, at 2:45 am, 2,000 soldiers of the 128th Infantry Regiment, stationed in Autruche, received the order to move forward towards Fontenois.
An artillery battery, located on the heights north of Fontenois, starts a bombardment towards Saint-Pierremont at 6:00 am.
The German artillery, which has several batteries on site in the Saint-Pierremont and Sommauthe sector, returned fire, forcing the French to withdraw to the Fontenois valley.
The losses are considerable and the injuries from the explosives are horrendous.
The German soldiers of the 38th Füsilier Regiment are advancing in hoards towards the direction of Fontenois.
At 10:00 am the French launched a counter attack. The young French soldiers, exhausted and traumatized by the morning’s many losses, crawl up the hills with great difficulty. However, the Germans were waiting for them on the plateau and from here the German gunners have an advantage.
After several unsuccessful attacks, the French army command decides to break off the fight. The expected reinforcements never arrive. The remaining French soldiers fled to the south of the village. The seriously injured and dead remain on the spot.
The losses are significant. In a matter of hours, those fighting left behind at least 150 dead and 300 wounded amongst the French. The German army also suffered numerous losses.
For the 128th Régiment d’Infanterie, 31st of August 1914 is the deadliest day of the entire war.
These boys of the 128th, coming from the departments of Somme, Oise, Pas-du-Calais and the Région Parisienne, did their military service in the barracks of Abbeville and Amiens before the war broke out.
On August 31, at 7:00 pm, General Langle de Cary informs his superior Joffre that “there was a minor hiccup in the attack on Saint-Pierremont. Nothing bad though. We are ready to start over tomorrow.”
The next morning, the 150 wounded French soldiers who were left on the battlefield, were taken prisoner and transported to a prisoner of war camp in Germany.
THE FRENCH WAR VETERANS AND THE RESIDENTS OF FONTENOIS
From the afternoon of August 31, 1914 and during part of the night, the victims are carried by stretcher bearers to the centre of Fontenois. Several houses and barns are being used as hospitals. The number of injured is so great that all the villagers, including the JURION family, are taking several victims in their homes. The hamlet of Fontenois has become a large hospital. A medical team of about ten people, led by Dr. Henri FROMONT, begin a fight to provide essential care to the victims. Even improvised amputations are performed.
The veterans of the 128th Régiment d’Infanterie who survived the war come every year from the Somme en Oise to honour their comrades who fell in Fontenois. The family of Henri JURION, farmer in Fontenois, organizes their welcome in the hamlet. He attached a sign to his house “128th R.I. Street – 31/08/1914”. It still hangs today.