Saturday 31 January 2009

The Battle of Verdun (1916)

From 1998 - Our trip to Verdun coincided with the French Victory in the World Cup. Having re-read Alistair Horne's 'The Price of Glory' recently my wife and I subsequently spent a few days exploring the Verdun battlefield staying in the town the night of the world cup final.

It was fascinating exploring Douaumont, Vaux, etc with the aid of a torch and Horne's account of specific actions. We were less successful in finding the German heavy artillery positions deep in the woods to the east of Gremilly although I did stagger out of the sodden undergrowth with a standard issue French army water bottle.

Anyway in the evening we joined several thousand french locals in the local sports hall watching the final on a big screen. I had intended to spend the evening walking around the Verdun citadel and then visiting the massive memorial which dominates the town centre.

We did get to the memorial, with six french kids standing in the back of the convertible I was driving, two of whom were waving huge national flags. The centre of the town was chaos - flares,flags,singing,traffic at a standstill and car horns sounding.

The monument had become the centrepiece of all of the festivities and the 100 or so steps leading up to the top were covered in patriots waving flags and setting off flares. The square below was a sea of ecstatic faces. Looking back I would have expected the whole thing to have seemed incongruous but at the time this display of national fervour in this place seemed very appropriate.

Viva La France ! Viva Zidane ! But oh, what a headache in the morning!