Beki Grinter

Verdun

In European Union, France on August 16, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Today K and I went to Verdun. Verdun is about 82 Km from Metz, or as many of you would prefer, 50 miles. Today’s adventure was driving on toll roads, and driving in small town France, which is Verdun and the battlefields around it.

Verdun is the name of a battle in 1916 in which the French and Germans spent almost an entire year going absolutely nowhere, but exchanging millions of shells and bullets, and in the process many died. Many is an understatement. There are no good words for what happened in Verdun, mass slaughter might be a phrase. It’s moving beyond belief. I’ve posted some pictures, but nothing does it justice. It’s moving, it’s difficult to describe. Perhaps the only thing to say is that it reminds me of what’s important, and what’s not. On a more personal note it reminded me of my two great Uncles, both of whom died in WWI, one of whom died only a few weeks before the Armistice.

On a much more mundane note.

Verdun was about trying some new things. Neither of us had ever driven on the toll road system—we’d been driven, but never “in charge” so that was an experience. We drove in the centre of Verdun, a small town in France. We’d gone to see the underground Citadelle, but they had a technical problem, so were closed and instead we went to the Cathedral. All of this required driving in Verdun. And we managed. And so France keeps providing us with new challenges, and so far, we have risen to them. I will say having a chip and pin debit card seems to help.

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  1. Mass military graves are always emotionally moving and yet they say nothing about the horror of how people died, the abject terror, the hopelessness, the mud, piss and shit – and death (and war) is somehow cleaned up.. if you want to see a picture of the sheer banality of evil, of the mundane character of atrocity in wartime you should go to Oradour-sur-Glane…of course (unlike military cemeteries but like, say, Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam), you’ll leave wanting to kill Germans..

  2. The douaumont ossuary also contains the bones, piles of them, of all the people they couldn’t identify and bury… they let you view them… but I agree you don’t get a sense for the sensory horror of war.

  3. I’ve always wanted to visit Verdun. I’m not surprised that you found it to be such a powerful experience.

    As you mention, many died. Specifically, at least 250,000 people, with another half million wounded. It’s hard to put such numbers into perspective. It reminds me of the words of Erich Maria Remarque, who found in WWI and wrote the novel All Quiet on the Western Front: “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.”

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