On Friday the 20th, we headed for some more such "exciting" stuff, the town of Verdun in France.
Verdun was the site of a brutal 10-month long battle during World War I. We started with the Citadel in the town, where you take a little car through the tunnels and hear the story of the battle. The ride felt a bit like a haunted house ride at the fair, riding through dark tunnels until the next horror was illuminated. But here, the scary stuff was real. Some 500,000 perished during this battle.
We left the Citadel and visited the sites around the battlefield...whole towns were just wiped off the map. These towns, like the town of Fleury, are marked with signs showing where roads, homes and lives used to be. And what really struck me was the land. The earth is covered in undulations that resulted from thousands upon thousands of explosions. Standing there, you could imagine the sounds of the bombs...and the sounds of the screams. I continue to find it haunting and unsettling. If you look at the ground around these gun turrets, none of that is natural.
Also haunting was the ossuary...more than 100,000 unidentified soldiers from all sides have this as their final resting place...the building is constructed with piles of bones in the walls. I took pictures of the building, both from a distance and from up close, but I felt it would be disrespectful to photograph the remains, which are visible there.
I did photograph the Trench d'Bayonnets. This is the site where soldiers in a trench were literally buried alive by an explosion. They weren't discovered until three years later when someone came across their bayonettes sticking out of the ground. Haunting...but at least they are buried with markers.
We finished out the day at Ft Douamont before heading back to the hotel, where I had a surprise waiting for me. Some 30 years ago, my parents got me a book on the history of my last name. The book was basically mass produced with a lot about how to do genealogy and not much on my actual family except a list of everyone with my last name that they could find in any phone book in the world. My last name isn't common...it is a short book! But in the book was a man in France with my dad and granddad's same name. So I wrote him and asked if he knew anything about our family history. He ended up getting interested in genealogy, and together, we connected our family here to our family there and have our direct line traced back to the Alsace to 1630! And by total coincidence, he lives in Thionville! So he came to the hotel and we got to chat for a while about our family history.
How cool is that?