Why did my great great great great aunt Rosalie Le Mouton lose her sons Pierre and Isidor and then her brother Jean all within three weeks of one another in Denneville on the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy, in April 1871?
What happened to cause such a tragedy when the Franco-Prussian War had not come within many kilometres of Denneville?
While we were visiting family in Normandy we purchased the most detailed books written about the history of this beautiful countryside to help us understand this period of its history.
Of course it was to be bitterly fought over twice more in the two world wars that followed.

This is how we first learnt of the 1870-71 Ligne fortifiée du camp retranché du Cotentin which was built across the very 14 km of the Normandy countryside from which my ancestry comes. Defence Line

The War literally came to Rosalie’s doorstep.

It must have been frightening enough to know the Prussian army was getting ever closer, but to suddenly find her countryside was the focus of intense military fortification must have been doubly alarming.
All the parishes across and north of the fortified line to Cherbourg were declared to be “in a state of permanent requisition”.
The influx of huge numbers of troops into the locality was devastating, not only with the construction of the defensive earthworks and barracks but also by laying waste the fields on whose produce they subsisted.

Leaving Denneville

Six thousand men were now living across the fields where Rosalie’s family lived and worked. The militias’ need for land, food and firewood stripped the countryside. Their arrival was made worse when combined with unusually wet and cold weather through the winter of 1870-71 and into the spring of 1871.
Everyone was struggling.

French Solders Some of Rosalie’s family had already left her village of Denneville for the safety of British Jersey in 1870 before this swarm of men – soldiers, sailors and later, returning prisoners, who also brought with them an epidemic of diseases which spread into the villages.
Parishes bordering both sides of the defence line where our ancestors lived recorded high loss of life to parishioners in 1871.

Father Francois Portais, Curate of Canville-la-Roque, just north of the defensive Line says, in his summation of that terrible year that smallpox, typhoid and scarlet fever plagued his parish and neighbouring parishes.
“The parish is still suffering from the presence of troops who are occupying the most important line of defence from Portbail to Carentan. Some of the troops are stationed in the old parish of Omonville-la-Folliot in the camp called d’Yons, whilst the rest, comprising navy gunners, are at St. Sauveur de Pierrepont and look after the three artillery batteries designated to defend the line called La Pélérine.”

Rosalie was not new to suffering of this sort.
She had already lost her first son Francois at the age of 16yrs in 1852 and her second son Placide, also a soldier, in 1859.
Suffering now found Rosalie again. Her grief is unrecorded. Her men Pierre, Isidor and Jean were not killed heroically in battle, fighting for the defence of their homeland, but struck down by disease in the course of the French Republic’s undoubtedly hopeless efforts to defend Cherbourg from an invasion that never took place.

Pauline Kidd (neé Le Mouton)