Wednesday, July 6, 2011


The biggest advantage of only one of us having a job and not having kids is to do whatever we want on a whim. So one day last month, when Craig had two days off, we woke up and I said, "I want to go to France and learn about World War I history" And so we packed our bags and set off for an adventure.

One thing that I like about doing things on our own is stumbling upon things you didn't plan to. It kinda makes me feel like an explorer (I know, I'm sure thousands of people have seen the same stuff we have, don't burst my bubble.) For example, we were near Verdun and I really had to go to the bathroom. We pulled off onto a wayside/picnic area. I walked about 20 feet into the woods and I realized I was standing in a World War I era trench!

I won't go into detail, but let's just say the trench makes the perfect concealment.

Near the rest stop area was a dirt path leading into the woods. We figured why not take the Ponitac for a little off-roading adventure. (I've gotten my money's worth out of my cheapy little car, let me tell ya.) Sure enough, we stumbled upon this fort (photo below) tucked back in the woods.

The Battle of Verdun lasted from February to December, 1916. According to Wikipedia, there were 306,000 battlefield deaths plus a half a million wounded.That's not counting civilians. It was the longest and one of the most devastating battles of WWI and in the history of warfare. I'm ashamed to admit that I knew very little about Verdun, or even World War I for that matter. Mostly what I remember on the subject was Mr. Collar belting out "Over There" randomly during history class. A friend told me about this trip (a history major...  those do come in handy!).

The two biggest sights in the area are the Douaumont Ossuary and Fort Douaumont. The ossuary contains more than 130,000 unidentified soldiers' remains. Outside, is the largest French WWI military cemetery. There was a small museum inside, and you could walk up to the top of the bell tower. The ossuary was built in the 1920s, and it was interesting to see how they built museums and monuments back then; small staircases, confusing and winding corridors

Fort Douaumont was built in the 1880s, and was first used by the French, then captured by the Germans, then the French took it back. 

Sleeping quarters. Notice that the only single bunk is also next to the stove. Wonder what rank got that!

Craig standing on top of the Fort. 

Another casualty of this battle were several towns in the area. Imagine an entire town being wiped right off the map! To honor these towns, they still maintain legal status and have a mayor. It was interesting when the GPS told us to slow down in virtually the middle of nowhere because it sensed we were passing through a town.

There were markers along the path indicating what used to stand in that location. I believe a farm was once here. 

We also checked out the German side of the battle at Camp Marguarre. This site was hidden back in the woods, and was so concealed, the neighboring townfolk had no clue this was built here until after the war. As irony would have it, this turned out to be a good hiding spot for the French when WWII rolled around. 

One usually aspect was the amount of detail and home-like accommodations of these buildings considering they were so close to the battlefield. 

And of course this wouldn't be "Cows and Combat Boots" without a cow photo:

You can see more cow shots (as well as some Verdun history photos).

1 comment:

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