March 01, 2016

MTSC FIGURE OF THE WEEK #109: 'FLEURY 1916'

1916 : The Blood Letting 

'FLEURY 1916' was inspired by the Battle of Verdun. Fleury was a key location in the of Verdun. These are 75mm resin figures and I believe were produced by JDM MIniatures which is now out of business. This commissioned vignette was built and painted by Dave Youngquist and is part of the MichToy Collection. It features a French Poliu* and Officer in action during the the battle. Be sure to check out more of our Great War articles featured here on News from The Front.



Fleury today
FIY- Fleury
Fleury-devant-Douaumont (Fleury) had 422 inhabitants on the eve of the Great War. It was located on the heights of the Douaumont hill, some 8km northeast of Verdun. The villagers led a peaceful existence until the late 19th century, when they found themselves at the center of a line of defense forts (Douaumont, Souville, Vaux and Froideterre) built after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. Their lives change forever during the Battle of Verdun, the German offensive of 1916. Shelling started on the morning of February the 21st 1916 amidst falling snow. An order was given that the village should be evacuated, and the villagers left in great haste, boarding carts and leading their livestock to Bras-sur-Meuse. An observer a few days later noted that the urgency of the evacuation had ben such that food had been left half eaten on some of the tables in the houses.  

On 24th of February, the capture of Fort Douaumont presaged the destruction of the village of Fleury. By May, all that remained were ruins. The incessant bombardment and the capture of the Fort de Vaux by the Germans on June 7, 1916 pushed Fleury in the front line. On June 23, the Germans captured the village, then La Poudrière, an advance post  located farther down the slope, on July 11. The French re-seized the position on June 24, but lost it shortly after. Fleury had become a key location in the Battle of Verdun. It was alternately occupied 16 times by the French and the Germans between June 23 and August 18, 1916, when the soldiers of the French Colonial Troops from Morocco re-captured it for good. By then Fleury was a vast field of ruins, which served as starting point for the French offensives that led to the re-capture of the forts of Douaumont and Vaux. 


Fleury in 1916
Abbot Theller de Poncheville wrote of the village at that time "Rows of houses were destroyed by machine guns and fire, the rooves collapsed, the walls perforated and burnt, crumbled in the streets and gardens, with their twisted framework and all their intimate objects desecrated........a strong odor of the charnel-house is released........The fury of combat has dispersed everything; the shells have fallen on these ruins, submerged in soldier's blood, crammed with dead bodies gnawed by rats". This was total war, and total destruction of this once peaceful rural settlement.
The white posts mark where the village streets once ran
Poilus in a trench at Verdun 1916
FYI- Poilu is an informal term for a French World War I infantryman, meaning, literally, the hairy one. It is still widely used as a term of endearment for the French infantry of World War I. 

The word carries the sense of the infantryman's typically rustic, agricultural background. Beards and bushy moustaches were often worn. The poilu was particularly known for his love of pinard, his ration of cheap wine. The image of the dogged, bearded French soldier was widely used in propaganda and war memorials. The stereotype of the Poilu was of bravery and endurance, but not always of unquestioning obedience. At the disastrous Chemin des Dames offensive of 1917 under General Robert Nivelle, they were said to have gone into no man's land making baa'ing noises—a collective bit of gallows humor signaling the idea that they were being sent as lambs to the slaughter. Outstanding for its mixture of horror and heroism, this spectacle proved a sobering one. As the news of it spread, the French high command soon found itself coping with a widespread mutiny. A minor revolution was averted only with the promise of an end to the costly offensive.

The last surviving poilu from World War I was Lazare Ponticelli who died on 12 March 2008, aged 110.

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