Visiting Cheveuges, France: a history of rolling hills and armies
Seemingly recurring events
Armies have rolled by Cheveuges, in the Bar river valley of north-eastern France for centuries. Even in Medieval times, the parish church was fortified for such a contingency.
During the 17th century, hostilities relating to the Fronde (insurrections which occurred against the French king at a time when France was less centralized) touched the locality.
The Franco-Prussian War brought a Prussian-led army to the surrounding hills; its High Command was based at a nearby wood called la Croix Piot.
Such military interventions did not stop in the 20th century, either.
In World War One, the Imperial German Army occupied Cheveuges from August/September 1914; and it was not liberated until hostilties ceased in November 1918.
World War Two saw Nazi German Panzers rolling through the surrounding hills.
This is very much border country; the historic Belgian town of Bouillon is only 26 kilometres away. With post-World War Two European Continental countries' history of violated borders and invasions, one can understand how these countries wanted to build defensive, economic and political alliances to bind their people together so that places such as Cheveuges would be less likely to see armies rolling over the horizon again. While Allied countries such as the United States, Canada and Great Britain were supremely and heavily involved in both World Wars, yet because they do not have land borders with countries of the European Continent, the psychological driving force towards European economic integration is sometimes harder to grasp in overseas lands which have not directly experienced enemy tanks and troops loom on their horizons, as has occurred repeatedly at places such as this village in the French Ardennes (1).
Cheveuges was formerly joined to the neighbouring commune of Saint-Aignan. It is located in the Sedan arrondissement of the Ardennes department, in France's Champagne-Ardenne region. Interestingly, the French department in which Cheveuges is found is usually written in the plural: les Ardennes; whereas its region is usually written in the singular: Champagne-Ardenne.(2)
A number of years ago I spent a vacation at Cheveuges; its apparently quiet and peaceful outward appearance deceptively masks a truly tumuluous past.
November 21, 2013
(1) For the military of the United States and Canada, for example, their tenacious and costly engagement in — for example — the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two, and Vimy in World War One was second to none. But unlike in European Continental countries, the civilian populations of the United States and Canada did not suffer the trauma of repressive military occupation — and neither did the civilian population of Great Britain. In this possibly lies some of the deeper, psychological history of 'Euroscepticism' in Great Britain.
(2) I suppose this spelling anomaly has come about because the regional designations have tried to retain a sense of France's historic areas, which were in existence long before the deparmental boundaries and names were drawn up at the time of the French Revolution.
Also worth seeing
Sedan (distance: 8.1 kilometres); its castle is partly Medieval in origin, and recalls also the famous Battle of Sedan, during the Franco-Prussian War. Its botanical garden (French: Jardin botanique de Sedan ), founded in 1875, is worth visiting. The Church of St. Charles Borromeo (French: Eglise de Saint-Charles-Borromée ), formerly used by a Protestant congregation suppressed in 1685, is an imposing 17th century, twin towed structure, in Classical style.
Bouillon , Belgium (distance: 26 kilometres); scenic town on the Semois River, overlooked by a Medieval castle which is associated with Godefroid de Bouillon .
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Cheveuges: 241 kilometres). Please note that facilities mentioned may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.