In 1914, a former underground quarry in Picardy in northern France is requisitioned by the French army. For almost four years, hundreds of soldiers were stationed there. Many left sculptures and drawings on the walls, but erosion and mould are slowly effacing them. Our reporter Julien Sauvaget met those trying to save the subterranean world that intimately details the horror of war and the daily lives of French soldiers who lived there.
In the Compiègne region, World War I is literally set in stone. In 1914, the French army requisitioned a former underground quarry there. For almost four years, the soldiers left an indelible mark: that of their daily lives, their wants, their loneliness and their looming deaths.
Over a century later, only a few people know about these secret quarries. Historian Thierry Hardier has been uncovering their mysteries for over 20 years. "The frontline in this area was from mid-September 1914,” he tells us. “This quarry is about 250 metres behind the first French line".
Hardier knows every nook and cranny of these dark mazes, each piece of graffiti or sculpture etched into the walls by the entrenched soldiers.
Nearby is the work of a soldier who was a sculptor before the war. Joan of Arc, the legendary warrior heroine, stands guard against the German enemy with an inscription: “They will not pass”.
But with erosion and mould threatening to destroy or cover their traces, these precious rock paintings, the last marks left by many French soldiers, are in danger of disappearing for good.
FRANCE 24’s Julien Sauvaget reports.