Chemin des Dames


France – In 1917 between Soissons and Reims, the Chemin des Dames, a vast sector of the front to the north of the Aisne river between Pinon to the west and Berry-au-Bac to the east, is at the heart of military events. General Nivelle launched the offensive on April 16 and counted on surprise to win a decisive victory. His plan was an intense artillery bombardment to destroy the first German lines, infantry troops in number, protected by artillery fire, including tanks to the east.

Nothing happened as planned. Poor weather, muddy land exposed by bombing, German enemy on overhanging terrain or sheltered underground networks, made the offensive, which lasted 48 hours maximum, would continue for weeks. On 16 and 17 April 1917, many fighters from the African colonies were hired and attacked around Vauxaillon-Laffaux and Paissy-Hurtebise. The Senegalese Tirailleurs – “the black force” used by Nivelle because “it was better that it is the black blood that flows in the front line to spare the white blood” – lose more than half their numbers.

The white troops were not spared. On 16 April, the French Schneider tanks committed themselves for the first time to this war, around Berry-au-Bac. Handy, quickly spotted, they bog, are destroyed or break down. The fighting continues all along the front, all summer and until October. The French and German troops competed for the plateaux, the Plateau of California, which dominates the village of Craonne on the eastern part of the Chemin des Dames – and the caves. The Dragon’s cave will be taken over by the Germans on 25 June. The failure of this offensive provoked immense discouragement among the French soldiers. Today the Dragon Cavern is a museum space dedicated to the First World War. Nearby is a set of statues by Christian Lapie commemorating the participation of Africans in the offensive.

At the bottom of the block: on the top left, the California Plateau Observatory, on the right the Dragon Cavern Museum and the statues of Christian Lapie, in the middle a Schneider CA1 tank, on the left: Senegalese sharpshooters, on the right: Soldiers in the Dragon’s Cave.

Solicited by La Poste, François Boucq agreed to realize this block of two stamps.Famous draftsman and comic book writer, alone on humorous, absurd or delusional stories, or in collaboration with writers, François Boucq has already illustrated the Great War in Paroles de Poilus or to accompany the story Fire of Henri Barbusse. For us, he has put in pictures, in ink and watercolor, the soldiers of the Chemin des dames and the place of memory that is the museum of the Dragon Cavern.

Technical Details

Issue Date: 18.04.2017
Designer: Stéphane Humbert-Basset
Process: Heliogravure
Size: 200 x 95 mm
Values: 1.10€