In his rather intriguing memoir 'General Headquarters 1914-1916 and its critical decisions' General Von Falkenhayn articulated the logic behind Germany's decision to attack Verdun in 1916. The strain on France had already reached breaking point ... if we succeeded in opening the eyes of her people that in a military sense they had nothing more to hope for, then breaking point would be reached and England's best sword knocked out of her hand. Falkenhayn had succeeded Helmuth Von Moltke as German Chief of Staff in September 1914 following the failure of the Schlieffen Plan and remained in command until the Battle of Verdun ground to a bloody halt in late summer 1916.
|View of the Voie Sacree (Phil Curme Collection)|
|2nd Army GHQ, Souilly|
Our first true battlefield walk was at the extreme top end of the battlefield on the right bank of the Meuse - a river which divided the theatre of operations and drove much of the tactical thinking throughout the siege. The Bois des Caires was the spot where two battalions of Chasseurs under the command of Colonel Emile Driant fought a heroic defensive action at the very start of the battle. Driant had been a member of the French parliament prior to the start of the war, where he had voiced concerns about the state of the French Army's defensive capabilities. Despite being above the age of enlistment, Driant had pulled strings to get himself involved when war was imminent. A walk through the woods reveals Driant's original command post, the spot where he fell (see image below), his restored gravesite and a memorial to his unit.
|The spot where Colonel Driant fell (Phil Curme Collection)|
|The site of Bezonvaux village (Phil Curme Collection)|
|Casement - Fort Douaumont (Phil Curme Collection)|
|Reverse Elevation - Fort Douaumont (Phil Curme Collection)|
|Exterior - Verdun Ossuary (Phil Curme Collection)|
|Interior - Vedun Ossuary (Phil Curme Collection)|
The title of Alistair Horne's outstanding history of the battle, 'The Price of Glory' sums up the meaning of this monument perfectly. to the south of the vast cemetery which frames the ossuary building, is a moving memorial to the French colonial troops who 'died for France'. My overall impressions? The fact that the battlefield was left as it was after the battle, gives an eerie feel to the place. The destroyed villages, the cemeteries, the smashed forts - all are gradually being reclaimed by nature. The landscape may be softening, but the impact of the structures that remain tell a different, violent story.