Ridgefield students dig into World War I history

Updated 3:59 pm EDT, Monday, August 5, 2019


Ridgefield students Aaron Cohen and Mairead Lacey have returned from the Connecticut State Library’s “Digging Into History: WWI Trench Restoration” program in Seicheprey, France.

The three-week innovative experiential learning program brought fifteen Connecticut high school students to the site of the first German offensive against American troops to restore a section of trench once occupied by Connecticut’s 102d Infantry Regiment.

“This program, the only one of its kind in the United States, was a spectacular success and resulted in a life changing experience for students and chaperones alike,” said Christine Pittsley, project director of the state library’s “Remembering World War One: Sharing History and Preserving Memories” program.

The trench restoration work, led by local military historians Phillipe Dourthe and Denis Meyer, resulted in more than 100 meters of trench restored; two wattle walls built and a shelter rebuilt. A number of artifacts were found, including an American boot, a French spoon with a bullet hole and even a Napoleon III coin dating to the 1850s.

Students cataloged the finds and documented their work through photos and video that will become part of the Connecticut State Library’s permanent archives.

The Connecticut students lived and work side by side with sixteen French students from villages within the Communauté de Communes Mad et Moselle, the French administrative organization that funded this portion of the journey. Just as the doughboys formed bonds with the village 100 years ago, our students formed lifelong friendships with their French peers as they worked to clear rubble from the trenches, relaxed at Lake Madine or performed in a talent show at the lodge in Beaumont where the group stayed.

“While most experiences abroad expand one’s own mindset and worldview, our trip to France brought about not only personal growth, but state and national growth as well,” said Aaron Cohen, a student from Ridgefield High School who took part in this program.

“In an project which, on day one, I thought unlikely or impossible, our group restored a trench from World War One: a crucial piece of history, and the missing link between different places across the world from one another. All in all, the trip taught me that reaching back and reconnecting is imperative- after all, you might find friends you didn’t even know existed.”

Next summer Connecticut will welcome and host the French students, who will step back in time to learn about the French contributions to the American Revolution and visit sites along the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route.

To learn more about this trip, or to make a donation for future activities please visit https://ctinworldwar1.org/trenchproject.

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The Digging Into History program was supported by the American Legion National Charities, American Legion Department of Connecticut, American Legion Post 96, Connecticut Council for the Social Studies, New Haven Museum, Friends of the State Archaeologist, Drum Hill DAR, Windsor Historical Society, Pandion LLC, the Meritom Group, BP Products, Paul Schiff Studio and numerous individual donors. The 102d Infantry Association, New Alliance Foundation, VFW Post 511, Newington Fire Department, Keeler Tavern and Museum, Vet’s Explosives Inc., Torrington Historical Society, Divine Providence Parish, and numerous individual donors provided support for individual students.

About the State Library: The Connecticut State Library is an Executive Branch agency of the State of Connecticut. The State Library provides a variety of library, information, archival, public records, museum, and administrative services to citizens of Connecticut, as well as the employees and officials of all three branches of State government. The Connecticut State Archives and the Museum of Connecticut History are components of the State Library. Visit the State Library at http://ctstatelibrary.org | http://www.museumofcthistory.org/ | http://twitter.com/LibraryofCT | http://www.facebook.com/CTStateLibrary

About the Connecticut Heritage Foundation: The Connecticut Heritage Foundation was established to support the programs and purposes of the Connecticut State Library and Museum of Connecticut History. To learn more visit connecticutheritagefoundation.org/

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