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Webmatters : The Battle of Verdun 1916 : the destroyed villages

Les villages détruits

The Destroyed Villages of Verdun

In and around the Verdun Battlefield are nine villages that were completely destroyed and never rebuilt. Places that were so heavily bombarded that they were annihilated, earning the accolade — Mort pour la France.

Beaumont-en-Verdunois23 02 191608 10 1918
Bezonvaux25 02 191616 12 1916
Cumières-le-Mort-Homme24 05 191620 08 1917
Douaumont06 03 191624 10 1916
Fleury-devant-Douaumont23 06 191618 08 1916
Haumont-près-Samogneux22 02 191608 10 1918
Louvemont-Côte-du-Poivre24 02 191615 12 1916
Ornes24 02 191623 08 1917
Vaux-devant-Damloup01 06 191603 11 1916

21st February 1916

The massive bombardment which opened the battle for Verdun spelled the destruction of all these villages. Some were simply ruined by artillery fire, others saw fighting at the most brutal level.

Most devastated and fought over were the three villages of Douaumont, Fleury and Vaux. Between 23rd June and 18th August Fleury, at the centre of the battlefield was taken and retaken 16 times.

Cumieres - village detruit

The monument at Cumières-le-Mort-Homme

The term destroyed makes you think of Ieper, its Cloth Hall lying in ruins, or London during the Blitz. For these villages though, the constant battering of artillery, some of it the heaviest and most concentrated of the entire war, meant that the buildings were reduced to rubble.

Soon only the cellars existed and as the weeks wore on even their outlines began to disappear in the midst of the cratered landscape.

For some of the villages the transition did not rest there. Fleury has gone, aerial photos at the time could find no trace of it at all, and now a simple stone memorial announces: Ici fut Fleury — Here Was Fleury.

There are craters wherever you walk on the Verdun battlefield. Amongst the trees at Fleury (which due to its position is the most visited of these villages) the old streets and houses have been marked by pillars explaining what was where.

Fields of Carnage

Unlike in other areas of France where the villagers returned and rebuilt their homes on the exact spots of the ruins, it was not possible to go back to these villages.

The ground had lost its top soil and replaced it with the bodies of hundreds of thousands of dead, rotting equipment and rusting weapons.

Shells continue to rise to the surface and for this reason the government of the time decided to buy up the land: 19,571 hectares of it, almost the entire area over which the two sides fought for ten months.

In 1928 re-forestation began and over the intervening decades nature has found a way to reassert itself.

Walking around this battlefield the shell holes are easily seen through the trees. Whereas, for the most part, the battlefields of the Somme have once more become cultivated land the entire Verdun battlefield remains a cratered memorial.