WWI CENTENARY: Discover the Lorraine part of the Western Front 14-18

The "war to end all wars"

At the beginning of August 1914, when the “war toend all wars” broke out, Metz had a front row seat: but was watching from theGerman side. Important Gallo-Romain town, capital of the Merovingian Kingdom ofAustrasia, birthplace of the Carolingian kings, capital of the Three BishopricsProvince, affluent medieval town, Metz offers an exceptional wealth ofarchitecture and monuments: from St Etienne’s Cathedral to the district of theold Citadel, from the Imperial Quarter to the district of the Amphitheatre. Bythe wealth of its décor, it symbolized the mighty power of the German empire.Around it there is the New Town, an outstanding urban area, with a greatdiversity of artistic and architectural influences, in the characteristic andcontrasted style of the turn of the last century. Just next to it is theambitious Amphitheatre district project, whose centre-piece is the amazingCentre Pompidou-Metz.

After taking Fort Douaumont, the German army madeFort Vaux one of its main objectives and concentrated its infantry troops onthe right bank of the Meuse (External link) . At the beginning of March 1916, the Germans, whohad managed to get within a few hundred yards of the fort, began a hundred-daysiege. Inside the fort, under a deluge of artillery fire, the resistance was organizedin spite of shortages of provisions and water. On June 1, the Germans reachedthe fort. From June 2 to 7 1916, thanks to the heroism of Major Raynal and his garrison,the fort held off the German 50th division, but after some very hard fighting,the defenders, exhausted, were forced to surrender. However, the Germans failedto take Verdun and in the autumn, they abandoned Fort Vaux.

The Red Zone

Beaumont, Bezonvaux, Cumières, Douaumont, Fleury,Haumont, Louvemont, Ornes et Vaux: nine villages in the “Red Zone” were totally razed to the ground duringthe Battle of Verdun, swept away by the fearsome might of the battle. All thatremain are markers symbolising the outlines of the houses and public buildings.They serve as a reminder of the trades and work of these old villagecommunities and have never been rebuilt. They are ghost villages, villages thatlaid down their lives for France, and they are a moving memorial thanks to thechapels and commemorative monuments erected after the end of the war.

300 days and 300 nights of unbroken fighting

Although the United States did not officially enterthe war until 6th April 1917 (External link) , there were in fact Americans in the Meuse from1915. Volunteer ambulances corps helped transport the wounded “poilus” and ayear later, the famous Lafayette Squadron could be seen in the skies aboveVerdun.

Morethan 300,000 dead and missing, 400,000 French and German wounded. The Battle ofVerdun in 1916 was the most deadly head-on clash between France and Germany inhistory. The struggle to totally destroy men and defences by means of anunprecedented artillery battle symbolises and summarises industrial warfare. Itis impossible to truly grasp the profound horror of the Great War andunderstand the sacrifice of a whole generation without visiting Verdun. Theossuary contains the remains of130,000 unknown soldiers, laid to rest with their comrades for all eternity. TheOssuary and necropolis are two of the national French memorials to the FirstWorld War. The Ossuary gives a comprehensive overview of the Battle of Verdun.