VOVA POMORTZEFF PRESENTS
All Quiet on the Western Front
How the places of the bloody battles of the First World War look like one hundred years after
Vova Pomortzeff
photographer
One hundred years ago, this lifeless chalky plateau in north-eastern France became a place of heavy battles. The first line of the Western Front was here during the four years of the First World War. Thousands of German and French soldiers died fighting for the strategic point. Today, the ground of the bloody battles has turned into a stunning open-air museum through the efforts of local enthusiasts.
Restored barbed wire entanglements in front of the restored German trench from the time of the First World War at the Main de Massiges in Marne region in north-eastern France.
The chalky plateau of Main de Massiges changed hands several times during the war. The Germans attacked the area for the first time in mid-September 1914, immediately after the failure of the German offensive in the First Battle of the Marne. However, it was not until February 1915 that they managed to dislodge the French Army and take up the defensive positions at the strategic point. Just for few months however. The French forces started a counter-offensive already on September 25, 1915. Two weeks later, the plateau became French again, although positional engagements continued here until the autumn of 1918.
One of the restored French trenches at the Main de Massiges.
For the last years, excavations are continuing at the Main de Massiges. All unearthed war-time artefacts are left on the ground. At the same time enthusiasts restore the trenches, as they looked one hundred years ago. As a result, the battlefield is turning out, perhaps, into the best museum of the First World War of all currently existing. An absolute illusion that you are sitting in a real French trench and looking through the barbed wire entanglements at the German positions, located just a few hundred meters away. The war at your fingertips! Free of charge!
French observation post used during the First World War at the Main de Massiges. The first line of the German Army was just a few hundred meters away from here in 1916–1918.
Former German positions viewed from the French observation post at the Main de Massiges.
Fragments of artillery shells found during the excavations at the Main de Massiges.
Shell fragment and a rusted roll of barbed wire found during the excavations at the Main de Massiges.
Artillery shell used during the First World War found during the excavations at the Main de Massiges.
Fragments of French canteens and other war-time artefactes found during the excavations.
French soldiers equipped against the cold drinking juice in the trench during the First World War depicted in the black and white photograph on display in one of the restored trenches at the Main de Massiges.
Restored network of French trenches at the Main de Massiges.
French soldiers eating in the trench in Flanders in 1917 during the First World War depicted in the black and white photograph on display in one of the restored trenches at the Main de Massiges.
French trench stove, wine bottles and a canteen found during the excavations.
Wine bottles, fragments of artillery shells, a canteen and other items found during the excavations.
Wooden cross marking the place where the remains of French soldier Albert Joseph Daude were found at the Main de Massiges. He served in the 23rd Colonial Infantry Regiment of the French Army and died at age 21 during the first German offensive on the site on February 7, 1915. His remains were found in July 2013 during the excavations in the area realized by the Main de Massiges Association since 2009.
Left: Remains of an unidentified French soldier unearthed during the excavations at the Main de Massiges in March 2012. Right: Cenotaph to a French soldier fallen at the Main de Massiges.
One of the French soldiers fighting at the Main de Massiges during the First World War was famous French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. In the autumn of 1915, he wrote in one of his last poetry before his death:
I long
To grasp you in my hand Main de Massiges
So fleshless on the map

Goethe's trench I've fired at
I've even fired at the guts of Nietzsche
Decidedly I respect no glory
Translation by Anna Hyde Greet
Restored network of trenches at the Main de Massiges.
Almost one and a half million French soldiers were killed at the front lines of the First World War. Most of them are buried in the endless military cemeteries in the provinces of Champagne and Ardennes in north-east France, where the bloodiest battles took place one hundred years ago.
Douaumont Ossuary in Fleury-devant-Douaumont near Verdun in Meuse region in north-eastern France. Remains of at least 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers fallen in 1916 during the Battle of Verdun, the bloodiest battle of the First World War, are buried in the underground crypt inside. Another 16,000 French soldiers are buried in the military cemetery nearby. The memorial church designed by French architects Léon Azéma, Max Edrei and Jacques Hardy was completed in 1932.
Left: Suippes National Cemetery in Marne region in north-eastern France. Over 8,000 French soldiers fallen during the First World War are buried here. Graves of Muslim and Jewish soldiers who served in the French Army and were buried together with the Christians are seen in the foreground.

In the centre: Navarin Memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Champagne Armies in Marne region in north-eastern France. Approximately 10,000 French soldiers fallen in the Battles of Champagne during the First World War are buried in the underground ossuary inside. The statue topped the memorial was designed by French sculptor Maxime Real del Sarte, who lost his left hand at the front.

Right: Russian military cemetery in Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand near Mourmelon-le-Grand in Marne region in north-eastern France. Totally 915 soldiers of the Russian Expeditionary Force fallen in 1916–1918 in France during the First World War are buried here. The Orthodox memorial church of the Resurrection of Christ designed by Russian architect Albert Benoit was built at the cemetery in 1936–1937.
Memorial iron cross devoted to French soldier Aristide Cassat marking the place of his death next to the Navarin Memorial in north-eastern France. Aristide Cassat served in the 67th Infantry Regiment of the French Army and disappeared at age 21 during the Second Battle of Champagne on September 27, 1915.

The photographs of this feature were taken in summer 2018 at the battle sites of the Western Front of the First World War in north-eastern France.