Connecting and Bringing History to Life
The development of the small forts of Laudrefang and Téting is at the heart of the work of ASPOLT volunteers. This task is carried out by the restoration of the blockhouses, but even more by the diffusion of the story of the memory of the soldiers who spent a key period of their lives there in 1939-1940.
Of course, books have already been published on the history of the Maginot Line in general, in which one can find photos and accounts of the events that took place at the fortified sector of Faulquemont and in particular at the forts of Laudrefang and Téting. But in 2007, it was noted that there are no testimonies and that everything remains to be done.
A colossal amount of work then awaits the volunteers who are not discouraged, guided by their thirst for knowledge.
Like investigators, the volunteers set out on a number of trails to find documents and testimonials likely to strengthen the knowledge of the history of their works.
The first lead was that of the Service Historique de la Défense in Vincennes. A place of remembrance that cannot be ignored by any historian or enthusiast of the history of the French armies, it has, over the years, been the subject of numerous visits by some of our volunteers who have found many documents, some known, others unpublished.
Written reports, photos, inventories: the variety of these documents allows us to shed light on the daily life of French soldiers in 1939-1940, from the simple chore of clearing snow from the trenches to the bombings of June 1940.
In 2009, contact was made with the family of Second Lieutenant Emile Choné, commander of Block 3 of the OP of Laudrefang in 1939-1940, in order to evoke his memory and to make his descendants discover the work undertaken by the ASPOLT to honor his memory and that of his comrades.
Still in 2009, we contacted the son of Jean Vindevogel, an observer soldier assigned in this same Block 3 and who wrote the account of his daily life during this period. After the war, he published this account in the form of a book that his son re-edited after we contacted him. This text provides an extremely valuable account of the experience of the occupants of Block 3, from the mobilization to their departure in captivity on July 1, 1940 to Germany.
From 2016, Simon, vice-president of the association, decided to deepen this research and to return to the living memory of Laudrefang’s little book. The objective: to identify and contact the families of veterans of the work, of whom there were about 275 in 1940 (a number that unfortunately cannot be verified), using the archives kept by the Service Historique de la Défense (Historical Service of Defense). The task is difficult, as it often involves relying on a simple family name, sometimes a commune of birth, and contacting people likely to be the descendant of a veteran.
Throughout France, phone calls are made and letters are sent. After the sword in the water, real successes follow one another. To date, 104 families of former soldiers have been found. These contacts have been the occasion for warm exchanges about the life of a father, a grandfather, a grandfather, a grandfather, and the discovery of documents of great historical value. 250 photographs (from before, during and after the war), portraits, individual wartime notebooks, military booklets and correspondence were scanned, sent by the families to the association and even donated.
From the captain of the book to the second-class soldier, from the mechanic at the power plant to the doctor, the all-round searches have made it possible to find the most varied profiles of the crew, gradually giving shape to a real “class photo” of the crew and giving a more precise idea of what their daily life was like. We then discovered how the soldiers felt about the phoney war, about the fighting, their anger, their sadness, their resignation at the announcement of their departure in captivity on July 1, 1940.
This research thus retraces the history of these men, not only during the war, but also before and after the war.
In March 2020, Valentin undertook similar research for the Téting OP in which his grandfather fought in 1939-1940. Carried out at breakneck speed, his investigations quickly bore fruit with about twenty families of former soldiers contacted and many documents collected. A historical treasure, an epistolary testimony spread over the entire duration of the phoney war was thus found, as well as a hundred unpublished photographs.
In September 2020, the widow of Jean-Marie Becker, the recently deceased historian of the village of Téting-sur-Nied, donated to ASPOLT all the research she had carried out during her lifetime on the Téting OP. A colossal collection of new period photographs, unpublished testimonies and other documents that will advance our knowledge of this historical site.
All these steps, what for? It is not simply a question of reminding passing visitors of the forgotten memory of soldiers who sacrificed their youth for their country, but also, and above all, to keep their memory alive.
It is to show that the Second World War was not the whole life and nothing but the life of these men, but only a part, an episode, an event they had to endure, in the midst of their youth.
It is a question of paying tribute to them, of recounting these little stories, these individual fates caught up in the tumult of the “strange defeat” of 1940.
It is a question of continuing their struggle, the one they had to fight from 1945 until the end of their days, to push back the false idea, rooted in the collective imagination, that they were responsible for the defeat, useless soldiers of the Maginot Line.
As we now know, many veterans remained attached to their works, to their comrades, and remained united in these often painful but sometimes happy memories.
The ASPOLT is working to put these little stories back into the big one. Through these researches, we always try to immerse the visitors, for a few hours, in the daily life of these crews, while perpetuating their memory and bringing their history to life.
And, within a few years, Valentin and Simon will also publish the fruit of their work in 2 books respectively dedicated to the works of Laudrefang and Téting.
In the meantime, research continues.
In order to make the memory of these men more vivid than ever, ASPOLT goes to the end of the process of contact with the families by organizing visits of the works to their descendants.
Thus, on November 2, 2019, the association’s volunteers gathered to welcome the family of soldier André Willot, who was assigned to the Laudrefang OP from 1938 to 1940. Contacted in March 2018 by Simon, his son and grandson, accompanied by their wife, returned to the same place where their father and grandfather had fought in June 1940. A moment rich in emotions and anecdotes.
Born in 1914, André Willot had completed his military service with the 146th Fortress Infantry Regiment between 1935 and 1936. On September 24, 1938, he was called up for the first time for the Sudeten crisis and joined the work before being quickly sent home. On August 24, 1939, he left his family, his wife and his six-week-old son for a second time to join the crew of the A37 as a rifle gunner with the 156th Fortress Infantry Regiment. On July 2, 1940, surrounded by his comrades, he went into captivity.
Despite the pandemic, 2020 will also be an eventful year.
On June 26, 2020, the son of Second Lieutenant Amand Cointet, who commanded Block 1 of the Laudrefang OP in June 1940, returned to follow in his father’s footsteps. On August 26th, Simon welcomed his granddaughter, accompanied by her husband and children.
On July 5, it was the turn of the family of Second Lieutenant Émile Choné, commander of the block in 1939-1940. About thirty members came to Block 3, for a convivial and strong moment of sharing the life of their grandfather, who was always anxious to pass on his experience and that of his men during this particular period in our history.
Visit of Lieutenant Choné's family
Visit of Private Willot's family
Other visits will come with a big event bringing together dozens of families for a weekend. This will be an opportunity for them to discover or rediscover the sites where their ancestors fought, to appreciate the restoration work carried out by ASPOLT but also and above all to forge links with other families. A fair return of things as our research has taught us that many of the elders had maintained links with each other after the war, meeting in each other’s homes or organizing pilgrimages to the fortified sector of Faulquemont.
For ASPOLT, it is a source of great satisfaction for us to forge ties and bring history to life.