Sunday, October 11, 2009

WWI Sites near Champagne

Our Champagne day wasn't over after the bubbly tasting. On the way home we drove through Verdun and the Champs de Bataille (WWI battlefields). I realized how little I know about and understand World War I. The motives and underlying conflicts seem more complex than WWII. And the fighting even more brutal and greusome.

I know Mr. Ratliff would be disappointed at how little high school history stuck with me. Since we live in the crosshairs of so much war history we are making a point to RE-learn what we can. It feels more real to take field trips to the sites where it all happened. It is definitely easier it is to retain history this way. Few traces of World War I remain in Europe today, but the battlefields of Verdun provide an appropriately hard-hitting tribute to the 800,000 lives lost here in the horrific war of 1914-1918. The lunar landscape left by World War I battles is today buried under thick forests. Millions of live bombs are scattered in vast cordoned-off areas - it's not unusual for French farmers or hikers to be injured by unexploded mines.
It was easy to miss stops like the forgotten town of Fleury, which is now covered in lush forest. Fleury was one of 13 "Villages Detruits" caught in the middle of heavy warfare and obliterated, never to be resurrected. Gone. Fully destroyed. We passed this monument to Andre Maginot, creator of the Maginot Line of forts that were erected following WWI to defend France against future attacks from the east. I had not heard of this line before - but Kirk seemed to know a lot about it.
In this cemetary we were encouraged to reflect on a war that ruined an entire generation, leaving half of all Frenchman aged 15 to 30 dead or wounded. I think visiting military cemetaries is a special, sacred experience. Since WWI was a long time ago and many of these men had no children, I can't help but wonder if these guys have many family visitors anymore. I wonder what they think of this blond American toddler hopping all around their graves.
This is the tomb of 130,000 French and Germans. The artillery shell-shaped tower and cross design of this building symbolizes war and peace.
Kirk also visited the Fort de Douaumont. Looks like the D Day forts. This photo of Kirk's shadow above the bomb crater seems particularly poignant.
The London Communication Trench served as a means of communication and resupply for Fort de Douaumont.WWI soldiers were convinced that this war would end all wars and that their children would grow up in a world of peace.
Glad they didn't know it was just the first of devastating world wars to come.

Click here for full album photos from our LOOONG day in Champagne and Verdun

1 comment:

itdoesntgetbetterthanthis said...

Russ and I took a course on WWI in college, which culminated in a trip to France and all of these sites. It was truly sobering to be there among such horrible war sites. That is something that we just don't get here in the US, to live among such a devastating war history. Thanks for the reminder.