Sunday, February 26, 2017

Visiting Verdun

Our first stop in France was to visit the World War 1 battlefield of Verdun. Most people don't know much about World War 1, but it is one of my many favorite subjects in history. Not sure why... probably all the gross things they had to endure.

For those of you who are like most Americans and don't know much about Verdun, here are a few fast facts before I get to the pictures...

1. For 10 months the French and Germans waged trench warfare here, which the only successful thing either seemed to accomplish is to have a ton of people (800,000) die here in the dirt.

2. Trench warfare was when each side digs open air tunnels and then pokes their heads out and tries to shoot the other soldiers when they poke their heads out to try and shoot you. Those that get out of the trenches often get riddled with bullet holes while they encounter bombs and barbed wire.

3. Other inventions created specifically during World War 1 include gas masks, gas bombs, barbed wire, and eventually .... the tank.

4. The Battle of Verdun needed new inventions- like nerve gas- because the Germans were starting to run out of bullets. No surprise when about 40-60 million shells were used by both sides trying to "out kill" the other side.

5. The devastation and end result of the Battle of Verdun was death. Death of German soldiers. Death of French soldiers. Death to 5 cities surrounding Verdun that were never rebuilt. And a landscape littered with bodies, ammunition, and trenches.

I'd like to add that I was very considerate and didn't mention any of the gross things like a soldiers' diet and living conditions... I'll attach a link later for those of you interested. But for now lets go to the pictures.

Here is Fort Douaumont, which the Germans were able to capture at the beginning of the Battle of Verdun. They caught the French by surprise and easily rounded up the 57 men responsible for guarding the fort.

Here are the trenches, clearly the boards are new, but it was pretty accurate. Imagine having to climb over this? or worse have the soldiers firing at you as the corpses of your military unit flank you on either side? Yeah.... one thing World War 1 taught people was that trench warfare sucks.

Barbed wire was invented and used specifically here to prevent others from crossing "No Mans Land" and into your trench. (If you remember our trip to Salzburg) Sometimes they would attach bells or cups to the barbed wire so that it would make a noise when an enemy was caught trying to attempt to cross.

Lastly we stopped at the Douaumont Ossuary before the sun set. Unfortunately it and many things were closed for the winter months. But inside the Ossuary is where they kept the bones they have uncovered at Verdun. There are about 130,000 bodies that rest here. They could be German bodies, French bodies, or the bones of other nationalities who joined the fighting. Which brings us to another point about Verdun... when you are dead no one can tell if you are a "good guy" or a "bad guy" or a "German" or "French". Side by side your bones are just like everyone else.

"Chauffeur's Corner"
We had a few route choices leaving from Luxembourg City to get to our hotel near Disneyland Paris. Fortunately, we made the choice to take the shorter path and stop by Verdun. This meant some scenic backroads through the French countryside. I knew that the main areas of Verdun would be closed, but figured we were so close that it was worth driving by.

We got lucky and got to see a lot more than I expected. It was rather chilly when we arrived, but we still saw quite a bit. I was surprised that we were able to see so much relatively close to the road. The sporadic snow on the ground helped paint an even more vivid picture.

After Verdun we continued on French backroads through sunset and straight into dense fog. Fortunately, we arrived at our hotel only an hour or two after the fog started, but the rest was much needed, especially for the upcoming day.

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