Lest we forget – Charny-sur-Meuse, Verdun, France

We left Arras early on Sunday morning and had a leisurely drive down the excellent roads of France past Reims and onto Verdun. The rain has started on Saturday afternoon and continued for about 36 hours until Sunday night. So we arrived at our first Camping Car Parking Aire, a privately run set of national aires which Kevin joined in anticipation of our trip over a year ago, who have been tormenting him with emails of beautiful French Aire locations ever since. Due to the torrential rain, we settled down to stream the Sale Sharks v Exeter Chiefs game. Although Lola and I did get out for a quick run, though we had to run round the entire village twice to get 3 miles!

The plan for today was to visit the battlefields of Verdun which are some way out of the town, on the high ground over looking the entire area. It is usually only a 30min cycle ride from our campsite which is north of the town of Verdun, however, the somewhat important bridge over the river Meuse between us and the battlefields is closed completely for maintenance resulting in a considerable detour. However some tactical surveying of google maps revealed a small bridge over the Meuse and another over the adjoining canal about 2 miles down a gravel farm track from where we are. So we set off in a spirit of exploration to see if we could make it that way or we would end up with an angry French farmer and an even longer detour! Luckily we were soon crossing the river, feeling pretty pleased with ourselves 😄

We followed the signs to the Verdun battlefields, stopping first at the Tranchée des Baïonnettes on the way up the long winding hill. On 12th June 1916, the 137th Infantry Regive the of the French army we’re sheltered in their trenches, with their bayonets fixed waiting for the artillery bombardment to end. However, as they waited they were covered in mud and debris, burying them alive. They were found 3 years later, by the bayonets sticking out of the ground. What a horrifying end to hundreds of lives, the moment has placed a concrete cap over the otherwise untouched trench. The surround area is still pitted with shell holes, it is really an eerie sight and graphic vision of the true horrors of WW1.

We the crested the hill to the Ossuaire de Douaumont, which has been liken to an artillery shell, a commanding presence across the landscape and the 15,000 crosses of the National French military cemetery in front. This as a visual image is quite startling, to realise physically what the scale of these numbers of dead are. However, the ossuary contains the bones of approximately 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers collected from the Verdun battlefields. This being just part of the tale of 300,000 who died and 400,000 wounded in 300 days between 21st February and 18 December 1916, the longest battle of WWI.

Finally, we visited the Fort de Douaumont, built between 1883 and 1913 along a 45km front to protect Verdun, it had only a skeleton crew of 56 and was captured in only 4 days and taken over by the Germans who used it as a command post. Charles de Gaulle, as a young captain was wounded and captured here in 1916. We wandered across the crater strewn roof, seeing the heavy damage to the gun turrets. We were allowed to tour inside even with Lola and Lizzy, so we took a tour through the 400m long tunnels. Much of the original structures are now removed, the commentary described a little of the kitchens, latrines and bunkhouses etc inside. The gun turret was the most impressive structure with the massive counterweights used to lift the gun into firing position. However the biggest loss of life during the occupation of the fort was a powder fire resulted in the death of 679 German soldiers, apparently trying to warm coffee with flamethrower fuel. 1800 were blackened and injured. The bodies of those that died were bricked into the casements of the structure and still remain inside the fort today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: