We leave quite early as not much to hang around for and it is not the most pleasant outlook and head towards Verdun. This is one place I have always wanted to visit & experience but not for the enjoyment. Verdun was the area of the greatest battle the world has ever seen in the later years of WW1(1916). It lasted for 10 months and killed, wounded or lost more than a million from mainly France & Germany and other countries. It was so bloody and horrible that it truly defies logic but by that stage of the war all common sense was gone and it was like they did not know how to stop. For example in the first 6 days over 2 million shells were fired.
We first visited the memorial Douaumont Ossuary in the forest above the city. This was finished in 1932 and was built to home the bones of the 130,000 men never identified. These are housed under the building and can be seen through tiny windows and is quite chilling. The grounds before the monument has the graves and crosses of the 15000 identified soldiers and is very sad. At one point a tourist lady was ranting on the phone to someone and in the silence for reflection was very disrespectful and I glared and gestured to her husband but thankfully she moved away. We then went into the building itself and the two long wings has all the names of the dead, so many born in the 1880 & 1890s only boys some as young as 15 when they died. I couldn’t help but think of my kids born on 1985 and 1990 a century apart and hope to hell it never happens again.
We paid admission and watched a film on the longest battle of the war and it was very sobering though educational as well. The battle lasted for 300 days and 300 nights. It was then up the tower to a small museum and sweeping views of the surrounding countrside and graves which from up here gives a better scale of buriel ground. We then travelled towards our next stop which was the Douaumont Fort a huge fort built into & under the hillside, heavily fortified with a big gun that rose out of the turret to fire at the enemy sometimes miles away as well as steel machine gun pods . It was built by the french, taken over by the germans then back by the french towards the end of the war. Again it is impossible to describe the conditions they would have lived in but it was like an underground city with all amenities. We walked all around the different levels inside as well as the big gun turret that gives you an idea of the size of the bloody thing, the kitchens, sleeping areas, toilets etc. Though now empty you get an idea of what it was like but now it is very dank and wet with water dripping and the beginnings of stalagtites from the constantly dripping water through the limestone. As fascinating that it is, like the KGB headquaters in Lithiuania it is very depressing and you can feel the bad energy not surprising when you take into account the hundreds plus who died here. At one point 60 odd germans died in one area when a bomb hit. The memorial room is still there. We saw all we wanted to see and Vicki was starting to feel ill as the whole atmosphere is very disturbing.
Back outside gratefully but its cold and wet so we head off but stop just outside on the road and look at the original communication trench that runs for miles. Just inside the forest are concrete bunkers all collapsed, from the war bombardment or time we are not sure. The landscape is weird as though there is now a full forest the ground is very ‘lumpy’ as this was absolutly shelled to smithereens for hundreds of miles and would have looked like the moon barren and lifeless, mud and waterfilled craters now overgrown with new trees and undergrowth. God only knows what still lies beneath.
We find the aire in Verdun which is near the bus terminal which has room for 5 campers but we are the 6th but park up anyway. We bike into town which is a pretty one and has a quite wide river and a lovely feel about it. Verdun would be a nice place to spend a day but tbere are hopefully better places down the track and we are concious that we dont have a lot of time left here in france. Verdun has what I think is the best war memorial I have seen in a town. Quite large with double stairs going quite a way up adorned with stone sculptures. I cant resist so run up the 50 odd stairs and rewarded with a sweeping view of the town and river. We dont want to spend any more money today so resist the urge to have a drink (easier for Vicki than me) and head back to the van. I would have liked to have visited the museum but no time and feel I have seen enough war today.