The Earth Wept
We have returned to Burgundy since we spent a few wonderful days in Verdun with our friends. We don’t get to see them very often so it is always a treat! I have to say, in general I find Northeners very friendly and up for a bit of fun! There is however something palpable in the air that you can’t quite put your finger on. Then you see the rows and rows of graves.
Verdun is a place that has entered into the global conciousness for a terrible reason. The Great War. This area has seen devastation that we can’t quite imagine. We have an image in our heads of the war hero coming home. We don’t like to imagine the family waiting for a father who will never return. Or a father who will never return the same as he once was. It is difficult to put ourselves in the place of the nurse who has had to witness horrific injuries. Verdun, for but a brief (and enormous) moment in history, was the epicentre of horror.
I enjoy history. Wherever we travel, I always feel I have to get my fix. I had visited the Verdun Memorial before and I felt it was well worth the visit. Our visit was brief and we didn’t make it to the Ossuary of Douaumont which is just up the road from the Memorial, so this time I really wanted to take a look. I suppose my upbringing has instilled in me a need to honour those who have passed.
For any history buffs, there is plenty to see in Verdun town. However as soon as you arrive near the Memorial and the Ossuary you instantly feel plunged into history. The landscape has born witness and still bears the scars of World War I. If you didn’t know any better you would think it was a lumpy-bumpy landscape rather pleasing to the eye.
Then you realise that the reason the land appears so, is because of bombs, trenches and combat. The forest has grown again but the lunar type landscape is still visible. It was all the more apparent as it had been raining, so there were little pools everywhere. If only those pools of water could cleanse and wash away the sadness and pitiful fibres still pervading those little crators.
The Ossuary was built to house the remains of the unknown soldiers who fell. Soldiers from all walks of life lie side by side. The idea of the Ossuary was concieved as a place of remembrance for those who didn’t have a grave to stand beside and mourn. It is as difficult to imagine lying beside the person who was your fierce enemy for all eternity, as it is to imagine the camaraderie of opposing sides as soon as word came through that the Armistice on the 11th November had been signed. Yet that is what happened and there they lie, side by side.
After we visited the Ossuary we decided to have a look at the ruined village of Douaumont just beside it. There were nine villages in the Meuse department that were completely destroyed. Six of them were never rebuilt, but still hold the status of a village. There are three councillors named by the department administration to oversee their upkeep. They even elect an honorary mayor. The idea is, that although these villages, “morts pour la France,” are no longer visible, they still exist.
Douaumont was partly rebuilt but now all you can see on the site of the original village is a little chapel and small markers along what would have been the village rues. These markers bear the names of the families that lived there before the war and their professions. There was one marker that made me stop and think. The Mairie/Ecole. This would have been the hub of village life.
We made our way back to the Belrupt cafe that our friends run, and I decided to bring the children for a little walk in the woods nearby before the dusk crept in. I felt so appreciative of our freedom and ability to have fun. We had a lovely walk, but just as we were on our return, fuelled by promises of hot chocolates, the sky bellowed with an almighty crack of thunder. A streak of pink lightning burst through the sky. There was no warning. We weren’t far from the village so I thought it best to make a run for it.
I knew we could knock on the door of a neighbour to wait it out if necessary, so we all held hands and ran. The thunder and lightning stopped as quick as it started and the greatest hail shower assaulted us. The hailstones were so huge that my little one cried “Why is the sky throwing marbles at us?” I remarked to myself that she had given a very succinct description! I also thought to myself we were lucky that was all that was reigning down on us from the sky above. I thought about those who were lying in the Ossuary.
We made it home. Safe and sound. Warm and dry.