Monday, November 17, 2014

Verdun A Century Later

THC, accompanied by Mrs THC, was driving from Paris to Alsace sometime in the early 1990s.  As we cruised along the payage we saw an exit for Verdun and decided to take a little diversion from our planned route.

THC has visited many battlefields in the U.S. along with the Normandy beaches and the American Cemetery located on the bluffs above those beaches but the Battle of Verdun was different and will never see a return visit by THC.  The battle was fought from February through December of 1916 between the French and German armies.  During those months somewhere between 700,000 and 1 million soldiers became casualties with 300,000 of them killed (about equal to all U.S. combat deaths in the European and Pacific theatres during WWII).  All this for a struggle where the front lines never varied by as much as ten miles and where, at the end, the combatants ended up near the lines they had started from ten months before.

We saw a landscape still completely pockmarked by shell holes from the battle's devastating artillery barrages the results of which gave birth to the naming of landmarks such as, in its English translation, the Forest of Dead Men.  A quarter century later the scene looks the same as you can see from this recent picture by Michael St Maur Sheil (for more of his pictures go here).
world war i battlefields 100 years later michael st maur sheil (6)
The relentless and murderous artillery and machine gun fire pounded the bodies of dead soldiers into unrecognizable fragments scattered on, and embedded in, the endless mud that covered the entire battlefield.  After the war the Douamont Ossuary was constructed to house the bones recovered from at least 130,000 unidentified combatants of both sides.

The sense of waste, loss and despair at Verdun is overwhelming and we left there depressed.

The Ossuary

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