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May 1917, 'Plateau des Casemates': a tragedy, a notebook ...

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  • May 1917, 'Plateau des Casemates': a tragedy, a notebook ...

    On May 5, 1917, Lucien Gay was killed during the fighting in the Vauclair-Craonne sector. On the anniversary of his 25th birthday, this Sergeant of the 57th IR disappears, probably cut down by machine-gun fire. His body remains untraceable, but the military booklet and a notebook, which he carried with him, are recovered. Their pages are ripped. In those of the notebook, where the list of names of the men of his Company was noted in ink, a bloodstain formed around the hole made by the bullet. Machine guns under concrete shelters, left intact by artillery preparation or bombing error? ... Reading the JMO of the 57th IR [Journal of March and Operations] sheds light on the circumstances of the disappearance of this non-commissioned officer. And on the desperate nature of the fights on the 'Plateau des Casemates', during this second phase of the Nivelle offensive.

  • #2

    Sergeant Lucien Gay
    Sergeant Lucien Gay had carefully filled the pages of a notebook with the names of the men from the section he commanded (2nd Section of the 7th Company of the 57th IR). At the top, he indicated the squad number. On the left page, he indicated the names and surnames of the soldiers. On the right, he specified their function as well as the objects or tools assigned to each; information that could prove essential during the operation.
    For the 5th Squad, for example, we could thus know that Amédée Truques, grenadier, was carrying a bucket and a pickaxe, that Pierre Charriton, also grenadier, was in charge of a pot and a spade, while their comrade Gilbert de Hora, cyclist, had no tools, bicycle requires. The notebook also kept a list of the other sections and squads of the Company. It was found pierced with a hole, originating from a bullet, blood forming a halo around the orifice.
    It is probably at the beginning of April 1917 that Lucien Gay, 24 years old, completes this notebook. His Regiment was then stationed in the south of the Aisne, where preparations for the offensive were in full swing. Promoted officers receive their assignments; the material and the effects ... a second pair of shoes and the individual package ... are distributed to the troop; the orders of march follow one another; the units are inspected ... In the order of battle, the 57th IR is part of the group responsible for "strategic exploitation". "Continue operating in a general north direction (...) as soon as the rupture is accomplished" by progressing "by jumps" [JMO of the 57th IR]: these are the orders.
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    • #3
      "A few words quickly"
      On April 12, Lucien Gay wrote to his parents "a few words quickly". Letter before the battle, in which he reassures about his state of health: "I'm fine", he suggests that a big event is imminent: "nothing new, except that we are approaching of the ........? "; he left it to luck: "So much the better for those who will be lucky enough to get by. I hope to be one of them."; and he seems to be investing all his expectations in a long-awaited package, little maternal attention and the promise of small pleasures: "Today, I have to collect your package, mom; I am impatiently waiting for it because the more it goes the more it does not care ! No tobacco ... no pinard [wine] ... no this ... no that ...! Soon it will be even more serious ... alas! Let's take everything on the bright side, that's what that there is better to do ...! We will have them ...! nevertheless, despite them! "
      These were probably the last words of Lucien Gay, to his family. The Regiment sets off in the direction of the front, it reaches the Aisne where the exploitation troops assemble on April 15. The order arrives for the next day. On April 16, the 57th IR made in fact only one "jump": it was blocked at the level of a Paissy-Vassogne line, an hour after it started up. The breakthrough did not take place, the objective of strategic exploitation is transformed, a few days later, in order of relief from the first line, on the front again become fixed.

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      • #4
        The Battalion receives French shells.
        In early May, the offensive resumed on the 'Chemin des Dames', the 10th Army, to which the 57th IR belonged, attacked on the 'Plateau of Vauclair' [also written as Vauclerc] and on the 'Plateau of the Casemates'. The operation was launched on May 5 in the morning. On this day, Lucien Gay enters his 26th year. Anniversary without a future, for him as for many of his comrades of the 7th Company, whose names remain fixed, in ink, in an operating book pierced with a bullet and stained with blood. On May 5 and 6, the 57th IR accused a total loss of 777 men, killed, wounded and missing. The 2nd Battalion, to which the 7th Company belongs, is by far the most affected, with 329 men hors de combat, including a significant proportion, compared to the other Battalions, of fighters reported missing, such as Lucien Gay [the 2nd Battalion has 24 % missing, against 0% in the 1st Battalion and 18% in the 3rd]. On May 5, this Battalion reached the ‘Trench of Friborg', where it remained for 24 hours, before being forced to fall back towards the ‘Trench of the Sapinières', leaving on the ground, many of the men lost during from previous hours. The causes of the withdrawal add to the tragedy. Engaged in a grenade combat, the Battalion receives, at the same time, French shells: "a barrage of our artillery, falling on our first lines, obliges the troops, which occupied the ‘Trench of Friborg', to be fall back 50 to 60 meters, suffering significant losses ". [JMO]

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        • #5
          The 'Boyau of Stauffen'
          Can this forced withdrawal explain why a significant number of killed combatants, such as Sergeant Gay, which could not be sought for a long time, were not found? Possible explanation, which must be completed by recalling the harshness and the duration of the combats, which saw the successive use of machine gun, grenades and artillery projectiles. The description of the engagement, in which the Battalion of Lucien Gay participates during the hours preceding the taking of the 'Trench of Friborg', can shed light on the circumstances of the death of the non-commissioned officer, if the probable fact is admitted that the two holes visible in his booklet and that in the notebook, come from machine-gun fire: "(...) along the 'Boyau of Stauffen' (...) machine-guns placed in 2615 and 2617, under armored casemates, not destroyed by the preparation firing of our Artillery, prevent any progression of our Infantry, decimate all the troops which try to approach it, and determine a hole on both sides of the 'Boyau of Stauffen'. the efforts, aiming at the reduction of these machine-gun nests, perfectly sheltered, fail ", reports the JMO.

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