April 2017: A Centennial Great War Pilgrimage, Part VI by Roy Toomey

In this final entry, I discuss Verdun and the conclusion to our trip.

On Day 7, we went back to Vimy Ridge to see the new visitor centre, and the trenches and memorial. None of these things were available on the day of the ceremony, and luckily we were in a position to come back a second day.

The new interpretive centre was worth the visit. After that, I took Dan and Eben to the train station. They went to Paris, and I drove to Verdun.

Left: A large group of Canadian high school students coming down off of the memorial. There was an estimated 10,000 Canadian students overseas at the event. The total number of people at the event was estimated at 25,000, most of whom were Canadian.

Right: Three beautifully costumed re-enactors (a nursing sister and two soldiers) pose in front of the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

The whole Verdun area is a treasure trove for World War I historians. One highlight was Douaumont Ossuary and its cemetery. Fort Douaumont is a World War I fortress with many dark, dank tunnels for visitors to explore. Water is constantly dripping down, and sections of the tunnel ceilings are covered with limestone stalactites. In the area there are also several ruined villages. There is very little left of the villages, but markers and signs explain what buildings existed and where. These towns, destroyed by shelling and bombing during the war, are now called “the villages that died for France.”

Left: Exterior view of Fort Douaumont, outside of Verdun. Fort Douaumont is just one of several fortifications that the French army built to protect the city from invasion.

Right: Inside one of the many tunnels of Fort Douaumont. The stalactites on the ceiling and the wet floor give you an indication as to how damp it is inside the fort! It would not have been pleasant living inside, but would have been a paradise compared to life in the trenches.

I drove back to Brussels later on day 8 and flew home on day 9. What a once in a lifetime experience it all was! The centennial only comes around once, after all. It was a whirlwind, but we felt that we accomplished what we wanted to. Most importantly, we felt that we had paid our respects properly to all of those fallen heroes of the First World War. Lest we forget!

Left: Douaumont Ossuary and Cemetery. Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world with over 13,000 individual graves. Douaumont cemetery houses over 16,000!

Right: Muslim graves at Douaumont, oriented to face Mecca. Thousands of Muslim troops, mainly from North Africa, died for France during the Great War.

To see all my photos from our trip, please visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/roytombstone/albums