Program Applications are due by 11:59 p.m. on January 20
Connecticut Students to Restore American Trenches in Seicheprey, France
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission
The Connecticut Heritage Foundation, on behalf of the Connecticut State Library, is hosting an incredible high school education opportunity, “Digging Into History: Trench Restoration In Seicheprey France”. The project is in cooperation with the Communaute de Communes Mad et Moselle, and aims to restore a section of World War I trenches in Seicheprey, France. Applications are due by 11:59 p.m. on January 20, 2019. Click here for more information on the application process. "Digging Into History: World War I Trench Restoration in Seicheprey" will bring 15 Connecticut high school students on a community service trip to France in July 2019. The students will spend two weeks in the village of Seicheprey working with local historians to restore a section of trench from World War I. Seicheprey, in the Toul Sector, was the site of what is considered the first German offensive against American troops, and was fought primarily by Connecticut soldiers of the 102d Infantry Regiment, 26th “Yankee” Division. The goal of this work is to create a historic site where visitors can learn about this important battle, and American (and Connecticut) contributions to the war.
This project is being led by Christine Pittsley. Christine is a member of the Connecticut WWI Centennial Committee, she is also a noted historian and educator. Her official title is Project Director, Remembering World War One: Sharing History/Preserving Memories at the Connecticut State Library. Christine took some time to tell us about her vision for this remarkable hands-on education project.
Tell us about this new project. What is the goal?
The goal of this project is two-fold: first we want to create a historic site where visitors can learn about the battle and how American troops experienced the war; and second we want to re-establish the ties that once bound Connecticut and Seicheprey. We’ll do this by bringing 15 Connecticut high school students together with 15 French students from the Seicheprey area to do the restoration work.
Seprechey is an important site for the AEF, and for Connecticut in particular. Tell us about the significance of restoring/working on this particular site.
Seicheprey is an important site not only for Connecticut but for the country. It was where the first German offensive against American troops took place and it had an impact on not only the Connecticut troops that fought there but the AEF as a whole. War artist Harry Everett Townsend repeatedly mentions Seicheprey in his diary and a story I heard from a French historian is that as the troops went into battle at Belleau Wood they cried that this was for Seicheprey.
Restoration of this site is important because it marks the point in which American troops entered active combat. These trenches will also provide visitors the opportunity to explore both sides of the battle. Less than a mile away is the Tranchées allemandes de Saint-Baussant, a series of German trenches that have been restored over the past 14 years by French and German students. Restoration will also provide a tangible memorial to remember the sacrifice of the 81 Connecticut men who died there and will encourage the remembrance of Seicheprey Day in the state
The project this year is for Connecticut students only. As it is such a uniquely Connecticut place, we felt it necessary to limit participation to Connecticut students entering 11th or 12th grade in the 2019/2020 school year. We plan on making this a yearly or biennial project and may open it to students nationwide in the future. For Connecticut students who want to go, they’ll need to fill out an application form which contains a few short essay questions. These will be scored and the top 20 applicants will have in-person interviews. More information can be found at www.CTinWorldWar1.org/trenchproject
What are you looking for in your student candidates? What do these students need to do to sign up?
The program application can be found here. We are looking for student candidates right now. We have been inundated with teachers, parents and other community members who want to be chaperones or volunteer in some capacity. Students will present their work to the community of Seicheprey and again at an event to be held in Connecticut sometime in the Fall 2019.
Those will be open to anyone wishing to see what the students have accomplished and to learn more about the project. But if people would like to help out with this project the Connecticut Heritage Foundation is seeking donations to help provide scholarships to students and purchase some of the supplies needed for the trip. Donations can be made at http://bit.ly/DihDon . Please be sure to note that the donation is for “Digging Into History”.
How did this project come about? Whose idea was it? Who are your partners in it?
The project came about last April while I toured the trenches with Gérard André, the mayor of Seicheprey. People had been asking on social media if they could help restore the fountain that Connecticut gave the village in 1923 or what they could do to help Seicheprey. Gérard commented that restoring the fountain would be nice, but getting the trenches restored would be even better. And with that the project was born.
Gérard and I have been working feverishly for the last 7 months and in November we met with the Communauté de Communes Mad et Moselle, the administrative agency to which Seicheprey belongs, and settled on dates and got some logistical details out of the way. They are our primary partners in this and will be providing lodging, meals and activities for the students while in Seicheprey.
On this end we are working through the Connecticut Heritage Foundation which is our non-profit foundation that supports museum and library programs. We have a number of other organizations who have set up scholarships as well and we’ll be announcing those in the coming weeks.