Saturday, 1 August 2009

2006 The Long NOT Winding Road - History Lesson (Part 4)

By now we were beginning to feel like sheep as our tour guide was behaving like shepherd and dog combined. After disembarking from the coach at the next stop, Douaumont Ossuary,

the three of us left the flock to take a few photos and film in peace, only for the shep, er, tour guide to come running after us crying 'Mes anglais. J'ai perdu mes Anglais!'
Harmony was restored as we rejoined the flock and headed into the cinema to watch a 20 minute film, complete with headphones, entitled 'The life of Poilu'.

The Douaumont Ossuary was inaugurated on August 7th 1932 by the French President, Albert Lebrun, having been suggested by the Bishop of Verdun, His Grace Ginisty.
During the 300 days of battle for Verdun, over 300,000 French and German soldiers lost their lives. The Ossuary lives to join the unidentified remains, some 130,000 French and German fighters in one final resting place.

The building's tower overlooks the entire battlefield. We were unable to climb to the top due to lack of time on our mini tour, maybe another visit will be required in future. The Ossuary's facade is 137m in length and displays the shield of every town or city that helped to fund the building. The cloister consists of 22 cavities each containing 46 granite graves. Each grave represents a sector of the battlefield and contains the remains of soldiers found in the relevant area. At the ends of the cloister there are 350 cubic metre vaults to contain the excess remains found from sectors that had received heavy losses. In front of the Ossuary there is the Douaumont military cemetery containing the graves of 15,000 identified French soldiers.

There are many war cemeteries throughout France, for both wars and it is not until one of these is visited that one can comprehend the human loss endured in such battles. With no time to ponder or pay our respects to the fallen, we were back on the coach for our last stop.

The Verdun Memorial is located in the heart of the battlefields and is amongst the principal European Great War museums.

Built in 1967, it houses planes, vehicles, heavy arms and weapons alongside uniforms, personal belongings and handicrafts from the trenches.
Due to the time limit of the tour, we were allocated only half an hour inside this museum. So little that Guzzisue only managed to take a few photos of the weapons outside and I managed a little filming (to be posted soon). Guzzisue was not able to take photos inside the museum, as was also the case inside the Ossuary.

The photo below shows a 170mm minewerfer that was buried in the clay during the fierce battle for Hill 304 in 1916. It was saved with the help of "L'Office National Des Forets" and technical assistance of the army in June 1976.

Next is a French cannon that was used as fortification artillery during the battle for Verdun. Its total weight was 6 tonnes and had the ability to fire shells between 40 - 43kgs up to a distance of 12kms.

Finally, two views of a 1913 Schneider cannon. This had a range of 12.7kms and could fire shells at a rate of 6 - 8 per minute. The tyred wheels were not added until after 1918.

We arrived back in Verdun just after 17:00 and headed off to the centre for some refreshment before returning to the hotel to prepare for the journey home over the next couple of days. The tour, although short, was good value for the money. Trying to fit four visits in and traipsing around on a warm day with motorcycle gear is not always easy, Let the coach take the strain I say.


Affer said...
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Guzzisue said...

Verdun itsself was an interesting place to wander round and made an interesting stop over on our way back to the UK especially after having stayed on the outskirts so many times on the way to Germany.

Affer said...

The Ossuary is just extraordinary. I remember creeping around behind a gaggle of schoolkids who had the temerity to quietly giggle at something. "Silence" roared the Sergeant Major-like Attendant from about 30 yards away, in a voice that nearly woke every one of the inhabitants!

bikerted said...

Some buildings seem to have their own personality, the Ossuary being one. I feel honoured to have been permitted to enter its soul.