Verdun Memorials

US Cemetary
V
enture 32 kilometers away from Verdun to the largest US military cemetery in all of Europe. The Meuse-Argonne Cemetery holds on its ground, the remains of 14,246 soldiers who fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918. The headstones stand perfectly aligned surrounded by well-manicured hedges, but what strikes is that they extend well beyond your sight. Around the area you can also catch sights of the ruins of a church that was destroyed by the battle as well as the imposing monument, Butt de Montfacon. 

If you still have some time to spare, careen down to the Lorraine American Cemetery and pay homage to the American soldiers who gave up their lives in World War II. Again, a vast expanse of green dotted with white crosses greets your eye and reminds you (yet again) of the sheer magnitude of lives disrupted by the war. Take refuge in the calm interior of the chapel, spend a minute or two of silence and be washed over by an undeniable sense of melancholia that is thankfully laced with hope.
  

 Verdun Battlefields
Throughout your tour on the Verdun Battlefields you will be struck by the sheer enormity of the battles that ravaged the land but what would perhaps be the most poignant site would be the Tranchée des Baïonnettes. A well-known legend surrounds this site- the filled in trench was discovered with rifles protruding from beneath with their bayonets still fixed. Upon excavation works, it was discovered that beneath each bayonet laid a soldier. The memorial in place today is largely empty and quiet save for crosses in remembrance of those sacrificed but the tale that is behind the site lends a heavy air. It is here that the gallantry of those who fought in the war is best embodied.

Ossuaire De Douamont
A memorial that contains the remains of the soldiers who died in the Battle of Verdun, the Ossuaire De Douamont is a stark reminder of the number of lives lost during one of the longest battles in history. Perch along one of the higher points and you will be moved by the poignant landscape of a sea of uniform crosses expanding into the horizon. In the Fleury Memorial Museum, take a slow walk to pay attention to the 46 granite sarcophagi, each indicated with where the bodies were found in the battlefield. Do pay a little fee to get a chance to climb up the central tower to get a birds-eye view of the entire battlefield and be overwhelmed by the immensity of the memories and loss the memorial commemorates. 

Memorial de Verdun
Approximately just 4km away from Verdun and in befitting proximity to the ‘village that died for France’ (Fleury-devant-Douaumont) the Memorial de Verdun is a good introduction to tourists who only have a sketchy idea as to what Verdun represents to France and, possibly, the world at large. On display are a staggering number of uniforms, weapons, photographs and parnephilia associated with the war- providing tangibility to the tragedy that is now known to the younger generation as mere history lessons or a story or two. Unnervingly poignant silent films are also screened with multilingual subtitles to showcase the sufferings and reality soldiers had to face during those years. If the ghosts of history haunt the Verdun Battlefields, Memorial de Verdun is where the faces of these ghosts heart-wrenchingly come to light.

Fort Souville
Shrouded by trees, Fort Souville was not one of the major forts but was at the last line of defense against the German advance. The interior of the fort is not opened to the public but one can traipse around to see weaponry such as casements for machine guns as well as the memorial to war hero and politician André Maginot who chose to conscript.

Fort de Vaux
Built between 1881 and 1884, Fort de Vaux was where the admirable heroism of Captain Raynal and his garrison played out in a long drawn battle with the German troops. His words “On ne vas pas se rendre si facilement!” (we will not surrender so easily) best embodies their spirit and bravery. Raynal used homing pigeons to communicate with his commanding officers and in a poignant last message he stated “This is my last pigeon.” The carrier delivered his message but died shortly after and was consequently decorated for his gallantry. Guided tours are available around the fort for visitors to witness the conditions in which the soldiers fought as well as see the battle scars of numerous assaults and shellings that are still apparent till this very day. Do take a climb to the top of the fort to have a glimpse of some, ironically or perhaps thankfully, breath-taking and peaceful countryside scenery.

 
  

 

 

 

 


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VERDUN BATTLEFIELDS:   1. Meuse-Argonne Cemetery (north-west of map limits; zoom out 3 clicks to view) 2. Lorraine American Cemetery  3. Tranchée des Baïonnettes  4. Ossuaire De Douamont  5. Memorial de Verdun  6.  Fort Souville  7. Fort de Vaux