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Remembering Verdun

Verdun, France

By Charles Platiau

Verdun was the site of one of World War I’s bloodiest battles. Hundreds of thousands of French and German soldiers lost their lives in this north-eastern corner of France, where fighting raged for months in 1916.

Yesterday’s enemies are now united on the battleground. Members of French and German historical associations, all keenly interested in the First World War and all passionate about historical re-enactments, gather in Verdun every year to take part in a commemorative march.

One sunny Saturday in March, I joined up with four historical associations who took part in the event: “Le Poilu de la Marne” – from France, and “Darstellungsgruppe Suddeutches Militar”, “IG 18” and “Verein Historische Uniformen”- from Germany.

The French wore the uniforms of “Poilus” as French infantrymen in the First World War were nicknamed. The Germans wore the famous spiked helmet of the old German army. After laying a wreath in the village of Bezonvaux – one of nine villages that were completely wiped out by the fighting at Verdun – they took part in a 9 mile walk to visit the battlefield.

The Germans set out at a quick pace, as if in a race to impress the French, but as the miles wore on the two groups combined. The heat of the day took its toll and some individuals had to be helped to arrive at Fort de Vaux, their final destination.

The ghost villages of Verdun

Verdun, France
By Vincent Kessler

The year 2014 brings together the past and the future for France. It is a time of local elections, and it is also the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.

The Battle of Verdun in northeastern France was the longest battle of the so-called Great War, lasting some ten months from February to December 1916. It was also one of the most murderous.


The WWI ossuary of Douaumont is seen in Douaumont near Verdun, Eastern France, March 4, 2014. The sentence reads : this tower was given to the great deads of Verdun by their friends from the US. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

After the 1870-71 war between France and Prussia, which ended with the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by the Germans, Verdun was at the eastern edge of France. The city was fringed by hills – hills in which a network of forts was built to protect the border.

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