Today I drove to Verdun, France with one of my friends from school, a student teacher who teaches French and Geography.
This is probably going to be one of the most difficult blog posts for me to write because it is so hard to put into words what I feel going to such a place, and it is hard to put impressions into words, and pictures don't do it justice. After reading so much about World War I, seeing movies and having courses, I had really wanted to visit this place. I didn't really know what it would look like today--a landscape that had been turned into no man's land because of heavy shelling and trench warfare. Somehow it was odd to be there on a sunny, snowy day. But it was very quiet, and there weren't many other visitors, so I appreciated having time to reflect.
The Battle of Verdun took place from February 1916 to August 1917, along a front 124 miles long (200 km), and resulted in the death of 400,000 Frenchmen, almost as many Germans and a few thousand American soldiers. I was really surprised that you can still see how the war changed the landscape--almost 100 years later! People have compared the post-war trench areas to the face of the moon--deserted, bare, huge craters from bombs...but if you see detailed pictures you also see body parts, machinery pieces, barbed wire, tree remains...just horrible.
Below is the Ossuary of Douaumont, built to house the remains of about 130,000 unidentifiable bodies of French and Germans killed during the battle. There are small windows along the wall of one side, where you can look in and see bones. It's horrible. Just the thought of so many bodies turned up in the dirt.
The Tower is shaped like a shell and has four crosses on it. In front is a national cemetery with 15,000 crosses.
Then we stopped at the memorial for the city of Fleury-devant-Douaumont, a small village which was completely destroyed with the war, and changed hands sixteen times between the Germans and the French. I thought this memorial was really, really well done. They had markers where the streets used to be, where there had been a baker, a blacksmith, a farmhouse, and you could walk across this unnerving-ly wavy ground and just imagine what had to have happened here.
The pictures don't do it justice...how the ground is full of bomb-holes.