Body of First World War “Poilu” Found in the Marne


Almost a full century after his death, the body of a 21-year-old poilu was unearthed during restoration work

The remains of a French soldier killed in February 1915 at Massiges (in the Marne) were found at the end of July during restoration works that were being carried out in a trench.

Infantrymen of the First World War are often referred to in France as “poilu” (the equivalent of the English “Tommy”), a nickname indicating maturity and bravery in young men.

According to the Marne district council, “This poilu who gave his life for France at the age of 21 was named Albert Dadure and was from Audouville-la-Hubert, near Sainte-Mère-Église in the Cotentin (ironically, an area more associated with death on a grand scale in the Second World War). He was inducted into the army in 1914 in Cherbourg.” So explained Franck Lesjean, who is in charge of historical heritage at the Marne General Council.

A piece of the soldier’s skeleton was unearthed on the 21st of July last by volunteers of the “La Main de Massiges” historical association, which restores old World War I trenches in the area. The archaeological services of the Champagne-Ardenne region were then called in to exhume the soldier’s remains.

“The soldier was buried in a shallow grave dug expressly for his body on the edge of the trench and, by chance, his aluminium identification plaque on his wrist was still partially legible,” said Éric Marchal, president of “La Main de Massiges” historical association. “Apart from the skeleton, a piece of a boot and this badly damage identification bracelet, all that remained were tunic buttons with a navy anchor motif that was the mark of colonial infantry regiments fighting in the Champagne,” continued Éric Marchal.

According to Marchal, the trench was dug by the Germans at the start of the conflict and then retaken by the French at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives sacrificed during numerous offensives.

“The soldier was stripped of his armament, which leads us to presume that he was injured in this trench, before his comrades tried in vain to revive him and then buried him on the spot.”

Murderous Offensives: Photo taken on a battlefield in Verdun during the First World War.

Murderous Offensives: Photo taken on a battlefield in Verdun during the First World War.

Since beginning the restoration work on the trench in March 2012, this is the seventh soldier’s body to be found by the historical association, “and there will no doubt be many more, such was the murderous nature of the battles fought here,” added Mr Marchal.

According to the Marne General Council, the body of Albert Dadure was given to the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique in Marseilles, where an autopsy is to be carried out. At the same time, research into contacting descendants of the soldier is being carried out in his home region of Lower Normandy. Private Dadure is due receive an official burial in the military cemetery in Marne during the coming month of September.

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