After the disaster at Caporetto in October 1917, the Italians, with French and British help were able to stabilize their front along the Piave River. With the crushing blows of the 1918 German Spring Offensives, the Italians sent a two division corps of some 24,000 men to help the French along the Western front. Of the 9,000 Italians that died in France, 3,453 are buried here atop this hill along with an Italian general who had the misfortune of catching pneumonia on a visit to France in 1917 Ugo Bagnani. Across the road from the cemetery is a garden which has a broken Roman column that was brought north after the war.
Oise-Aisne is the second largest American military cemetery in Europe with 6,012 burials. Most died fighting in the area around here – this particular ground was fought over by the US 42nd Division – in 1918. The graves are laid out in four plots which front a large rose-colored sandstone memorial. There is a chapel with a carillon along with a map room showing the operations of the American forces in the area flank the memorial. Among the many buried here is the Catholic poet Joyce Kilmer who as a sergeant at the age of 31 fell in the fighting near Belleau. A member of the 42nd Division, Kilmer’s best known work is “Trees” – “I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree ….
Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree.”
While visiting the Oise-Aisne Cemetery, we were very fortunate to meet up with the Superintendent, Jeffrey Aarnio. Besides walking us around the cemetery, showing us some of the men and stories that lie there, we had a long and interesting conversation on the subject of how country’s remember the experience of war and death in general.
Denmark was neutral during WWI, a status respected by the warring nations unlike in WWII. That didn’t mean Danes were not killed. As a result of the Second Schleswig War in 1864, the predominately Danish area of upper Schleswig came under Prussian rule. This was the first of Bismarck’s three Wars of German Unification. This meant that the Danes of Upper Schleswig were conscripted into the Imperial German Army. After the war, a Franco-Danish committee assembled to gather up the bodies of those Danes who died here in France. The 79 graves you see here is the result of their efforts. Following WWI, Upper Schleswig reverted to Danish rule – Lower Schleswig and Holstein voted to remain with Germany. The Danish Cemetery is adjacent to the much larger French national cemetery Braine.