A Visit to the World War I Battlefield of Verdun
A Short Detour While Traveling on Vacation
On a 1979 trip to Europe with my younger sister we made a stop at the city of Verdun in northeastern France.
Verdun is a medieval city whose origins date back to pre-Roman times. According to WikiPedia it was founded by the Gauls of France and later taken over by the Romans and renamed Verdun which, again according to WikiPedia, comes from the Latin word Verodunum which means strong fort.
Sitting on the northern gateway into France, Verdun occupies a strategic position and through the ages has served as a fortress. It was this strategic position and the forts just outside the city that made Verdun a major battleground in World War I.
An Inexpensive Flight With a Stop Over in Iceland
Both my sister and I were still single and working at the time of this vacation.
I had just completed graduate school and had previously visited parts of Europe on a class study tour while in college and also had been to Germany while flying with the Air National Guard.
We decided to spend our two week vacations visiting other parts of Europe that I hadn't previously visited and visiting friends of mine who lived in Austria.
In those days the best airline deals were on Icelandic Airlines which flew flights from Chicago and New York to Luxembourg with a refueling stop at Keflavík airport in Iceland which I had previously flown into with the Air National Guard (the airport had originally been built by the U.S. military during World War II and became a joint military and civilian airport after the war).
An Afternoon Visit to the Battlefield
We rented a car in Luxembourg and headed south toward Germany and Austria.
Since Verdun was not that far from the city of Luxembourg I decided to make a quick side trip to the Verdun battlefield as our great-Uncle Walt had spent some time there during World War I. In fact his unit was temporarily deployed to Verdun shortly after they arrived in Europe in 1918.
As a result, we didn't spend any time touring the city of Verdun but spent an entire afternoon driving around the battlefield which is now a memorial park and military cemetery.
When we visited the battlefield, sixty-one years after our great-Uncle, it was a beautiful, peaceful place. The beauty and serenity coupled with the knowledge of the mass carnage that had occurred a little over a half a century earlier, gave one the feeling of being on hallowed ground.
The well trimmed grass, the trees, the monuments and the rows of neat white grave stones all gave the area a look of beauty and a feeling of serenity.
A French Military Cemetery
Chapelle de Fleury - A Memorial Chapel Where Village of Fleury once Stood
However, it wasn't until we stopped to view the Chapelle de Fleury that I realized that the small groups of rectangular concrete, each accompanied by a sign with a French name, which we periodically encountered, were the foundations of homes that had once existed here and were destroyed during the Battle of Verdun.
The battle was mostly an artillery duel that lasted ten months from February 21, 1916 to December 18, 1916. It was at that point that I also figured out that the signs, in French, next to each of these groupings were the names of the destroyed villages. A total of 19 rural farming villages were destroyed in the battle.
Chapelle de Fleury
The Scenery on the Battlefield Was Very Different When My Uncle Walt Was There in World War I
After we returned home I showed the pictures I took, along with some others that I had purchased, to my Uncle Walt. When he saw the grass and trees in the pictures he commented that when he arrived there were no trees, plants or even so much as a single blade of grass to be seen anywhere.
Back then the area was all mud, with some human and animal bones scattered around as well as the scattered remains of equipment that had been blown up. There were shell craters everywhere.
Upon seeing a picture of the entrance to Fort Douaumont my Uncle commented that as he approached the entrance to that fort when he first arrived, there was an arm bone protruding from the soil by the path just outside the door.
Having a Family Connection to the Battlefield Made Visit more Poignant
Having a keen interest in history, which was instilled and nurtured by my Father, I have visited a number of historic sites in my travels, including some famous battlefields in the United States and Canada, but, so far, the battlefield at Verdun is the only one in which someone close to me has been a part of.
While my Uncle did not arrive at Verdun until about a year after the major battle there had ended, when he arrived in Verdun the fortifications were still on the front line of a war in progress.
Following his unit's short stay at Verdun, my Uncle and his unit soon found themselves actively participating in subsequent major battles of World War I on battlefields that I have yet had the opportunity to visit.
Inside Fort Douaumont
Memorial to 400 German Soldiers Buried Behind Wall
Links to My World War I Hubs
- The Candle in the Window
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- The Zimmerman Telegram
In a recent Hub in his excellent series about World War I, Jimmy the Jock discussed the famous Zimmerman Telegram which was instrumental in getting the U.S. to enter World War I on the side of Britain and...
- Christmas in a War Zone - From a World War I Soldier's Diary
The request was for a Hub dealing with Christmas in a war zone. Patty Inglish has already provided an excellent Hub on this topic with her article about the 1914 Christmas Truce during World War I. Unlike...
- Death of Henry Allingham - Veteran of World War I and Original Member of Britain's RAF
July 19, 2009 With the death of Henry William Allingham in the early morning hours of July 18, 2009 the number of known surviving veterans of World War I, or the Great War as it is known outside the U.S.,...
- Mathew B. Juan Native American Hero of World War I
Sitting in the center of the dusty little Arizona town of Sacaton is a small park with a monument to its war dead. Little parks with monuments to those from the town who gave their lives in past wars are not...
- Passing of Harry Patch Last British Army Veteran of World War I
On July 25, 2009, exactly a week to the day following the death of British World War I veteran Henry Allingham, Great Britain lost another veteran of World War I with the passing of Harry Patch. The death...
- Veterans Day November 11th
Veteran's Day is a day set aside to honor the veterans of America's wars. It was originally known as Armistice Day to commemorate the official ending of hostilities in World War I - which occurred at the...