The following is not intended as a guide to Verdun, there are many site's that do this better than I could. This is simply a record of my visit to Verdun in May 2002. My chum Steve planted the seed last year.. We were heading back to Blighty after a short visit to the front line in "Wipers" (Ypres). He suggested the next trip should be Verdun as we had "done" the Somme & Wipers a few times now and the change would do us good!
The usual team formed up in Tunbridge Wells in the early hours of the 8th May 2002 waved goodbye to the trench widows and marched off in good order. They picked me up on route to the Tunnel. We had decided to hot foot it straight down to Verdun with only one stop at Cambrai.
The Dirty Half Dozen !
|This picture was carefully posed. Notice all the bald blokes were placed on the left (me second from left) This was to cut down on sun glare, Only Tom's Comb over saved him from joining us (far right) Also notice Ian has not changed his pose since the previous picture that was taken several minutes earlier!|
We had booked our billett at the HÔTEL LE MONTAULBAIN in Verdun which is a 2 star hotel just behind the "high street". I was rather please that the accommodation turned out to be so good as I was the one that booked it and had it not been, no doubt I would have not heard the last of it from my chums. My fellow travellers consisted of the same group as last time. There was Steve (windy) because he is! his brother Jon and their father Tom, Chris, Ian, Colour Sergeant Fogden & myself (the voice of reason).
On the way down to Verdun we made two stops. The first was at the Vis-En-Artois Memorial where we found Albert Barkers name on a panel.(see article) We also stopped at Cambrai where the photo above was taken.
Now many people who don't know, would consider a trip to a battlefield as a rather morbid perhaps even boring pastime (they probably haven't got this far into this site though) so I will assume you are not one of those. When we go on a battlefield tour, there is the serious side, ie visiting important sites reading up on those before hand so that we know what we are looking at and then there is the "beer up" in the evening! After we had settled into our rooms we decided to have a look around the town before visiting the sites the following morning. Steve (windy) (The one with the chunky legs in the top photo) Asked in a few estiminets if they would recommend a good restaurant. We were told about one about 100 yards down the road but this one was discounted in favour of one about 3 miles on the outskirts !!! Why I do not know... Anyway by the time we had route marched to this mediocre restaurant and marched all the way back to our Hotel we were too knackered for anything other than a nights kip!.
Being a bit of an early riser, myself and Ian (the one not paying attention in the top photo) were up and at the breakfast table before the rest of our group had surfaced. M. Pirot our host at the HÔTEL LE MONTAULBAIN appeared and asked us something in French.. Ian always quick to reply (although he had no more idea of what had been said than I) replied. "No the rest should be down in ten minutes" amazed at this sudden grasp of the French language I added "yes about ten minutes and motioned with my fingers out spread TEN". M Pirot gave us one of those "stupid English" looks and disappeared...."How did you know what he said" I asked Ian in wonderment. " I guessed" he said. " I don't suppose he could have been asking us if we were ready for our breakfast ?" I offered as a suggestion. " err I suppose he could have" came the reply. Sure enough our coffee, bread and croissants arrived ten minutes later ! Unfortunately Tom (The old fellow obscured by Chris ( The 1arge lad in the blue T shirt) in the above photo) arrived shortly afterwards and polished off the croissants before anyone else had surfaced (something we didn't let him forget)
The Victory Monument
Inaugurated on 23 June 1929 The Victory Monument contains a small museum within. Recent work to the roads surrounding the monument have enhanced its appearance. A row of small fountains lead from the top step of the monument, all the way down to the river Meuse and culminates in a large river side fountain. The Street at the river front is paved with some rather nice bars etc which we made use of in the evenings!
Within the Ossuary are the remains of 130.000 unknown French and German soldiers who fell on the battlefields of Verdun. Some rather alarmingly can be viewed from glass windows at the rear of the building, if this was designed to shock, then it succeeds. Inside there are 18 Alcoves, each containing a pair of Caskets. Above each Casket there is an inscription showing the area of the battlefield from where the bodies were recovered. Each tomb covers an 18 cubic metre vault containing the remains of the fallen. The Ossuary is a place where one can contemplate man's inhumanity to man and also buy some mean looking knives at the gift shop while your about it !!! Total silence is observed within the Ossuary as a mark of respect for the fallen. I managed to follow two French couples up the tower, the two wives of this group found this simple rule too much for them and they chatted and joked all the way up the tower and all the way back down.. I was so pleased they were not British !
This picture of Douaumont Fort is a bit misleading, inside the fort it is dark damp and very cold. The Fort was fought over and lost to the Germans in early 1916. The most shocking place in the Fort for me was the Cemetery. Within one of the bricked up arches inside the Fort are the bodies of 800 German soldiers killed when a magazine exploded.
That evening we decided to visit the hotel suggested to us the night before. This was called "Le Coq Hardi". We had a great meal here and all wished we had visited it the previous evening. Even Windy who had led us to the other place the previous evening had to admit it was a better place, and for afters we served him up an extra helping of humble pie!... Whilst in the Coq Hardi we met the Dutch branch of the Western Front Association and the Chairman introduced himself. Several beers later we decided to retire for the evening.