Travelled: 61 kilometres from Verdun to Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France.
Visited: Battlefields of Verdun, American Cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon
Stayed: American Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, free. No services. N49.33564, E05.09232
We roll out of Verdun on the D603. Its only a few kilometres until we turn onto the D913. The D913 travels in an arc across the north-east flank of Verdun, it roughly follows what was the old front line between the French and German forces during most of 1916.
Our first find is Fort de Vaux. It’s ruin stand on a hill commanding a view for miles. The story of the pigeon of Faux is a tragedy all by itself. There is still some 100 year old barb wire in places…The outline of the fort and its ramparts are still visible. There is a museum in one section of the underground labyrinth. However given the cost of entry we give it a miss. A turret cap which must weigh a couple of tons has been blown from its original mounting. The fort was designed and built in the 1880’s, in reality it was no match for the German artillery’s range and firepower. A couple of kilometres from Fort de Vaux we stumble upon the fortified machine gun post in a small road-side picnic area. This is the Monument de Lion. Apparently this marks the point where the French stopped the German advance on Verdun. We arrive at the Memorial de Verdun. A very fancy memorial and museum, which costs us €11pp to enter.
Memorials and museums associated with the first and second world war are free in England as they are in Australia. They are even free in bloody Germany, the buggers who caused all this drama. Not the French, we all have to pay to honour their dead…
Pam says, Michael we have come here we may as well see it. So we cough up. The museum is very modern and interactive. But nothing unique.
The museum which occupies two levels of the building devotes only a single panel to the Army of United States. Whilst the French had stopped the German advance on Verdun several months before. It was only with the arrival and involvement of the US Army did the allies brake the German lines and force them out of France on the eastern front.
We travel on to the remains of the village of Fleury. Decimated by months of shelling Fleury ceased to exist. Following the First World War the village church was rebuilt as a Memorial Chapel, the remainder of the village just a series of white posts. Fleury today. Each white post has a small inscription stating who lived here and the occupation in many cases. From the subtlty of Fleury to the Ossuaire de Douaumont. This huge stone memorial stands over a cemetery where more than 16,000 French war dead are buried. In the crypt below this memorial the skeletal remain of 130,000 unidentified combatant are stored. There is a fee to visit the crypt so we gave it a miss. Inside the Ossuaire de Douaumont. The names of the dead are illustrated on the stones lining the walls and ceiling. Pam and I chat to each other, even given the immence size of this building there are not a lot of names here ? Apparently your dead relatives name was only added if you paid a fee. The memorial looking up across the cemetery. Our next stop is the American Monument at Montfaucon. It’s about a 20 kilometre drive west from the French battleground near Verdun. The monument stands on the crest of a hill overlooking the valley. We can climb the tower, so we go and have a look. More stairs… The view from the top of the tower is panoramic. You can see why the high ground was so important during conflict. The German’s determination to hold this ground, is reflected by the high price the American paid to capture it.
Back on ground level standing amongst the ruins of the old church. The German observation post built into rubble is not easy to see. We drive on to the American Cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. It’s only a few kilometres across the valley. The American Cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. Apparently the largest single cemetery in Europe, it has the remains of more than 14,000 US servicemen. The walls of the monument list the names of the 900 or so servicemen whose bodies were not recovered. The US repatriated the remains of their dead if the families requested an internment back home. So a quick bit of arithmetic, the remains of some 12,000 servicemen were transported back to the US. A Medal of Honour holder. The cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon is well worth a visit. Noting there is a small spot marked for a motorhome I ask if its OK to stay the night ? The supervisor says ‘your more than welcome’. So we made ourselves at home.
Michael and Pam