Another week, and a new destination, because today we take you to France. But instead of the good old Eiffel Tower or another touristic highlight, we take you to a lesser-known corner of the country. Today, we are in the département of the Meuse, at the Villages Détruits (Destroyed Villages). But what exactly are these?
During the First World War, specifically at the time of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, many villages in northern France were destroyed by the fighting. After the war, it was decided that the land previously occupied by the destroyed villages would not be incorporated into other communes, as a testament to these villages which had “died for France”, as they were declared, and to preserve their memory. While three of the villages in Meuse were subsequently rebuilt and are governed as normal communes, the other six are entirely unpopulated and are managed by a council of three members, appointed by the prefect of Meuse. (Source: Wikipedia)
The other departments in France with destroyed villages (from World War I) are Marne, Meurthe-et-Moselle, and Aisne.
Back to the department of the Meuse. Lars and I were staying in Metz at the time, not too far from the villages:
The weather and the landscape at the beginning of our journey already predicted a sad journey.
Some remnants of the war greeted us just before we arrived at the first village.
Before the war, about 420 people called this village their home. It was recaptured between the French and the Germans 16 times before the latter finally annihilated it. Because of the explosives and the poisonous gas used, nothing could be rebuilt afterward.
All that is left, are these markers… The holes that are spread all over are where the bombs hit the ground.
Tranchée des Baïonnettes
Not another village, but a different kind of reminder of World War I.
On 12 June 1916, two companies of the 137th Infantry Regiment of the French army were sheltered in their tranchées (trenches), baïonnettes (bayonets) fixed, waiting for a ferocious artillery bombardment to end. It never did – the incoming shells covered their positions with mud and debris, burying them alive. They were found three years later, when someone spotted several hundred bayonet tips sticking out of the ground. (Lonely Planet)
This village was partially reconstructed after the war. Markers indicate where the locals used to live.
This is the new village… Less than 100 people call this their home.
There is only a memorial for the former village, which is a short distance away. We couldn’t get any closer to it, because there was so much mud and neither of us was properly dressed.
This village underwent the same fate as Fleury-devant-Douamont. All that is left today are bits and pieces of everyday life. Can you imagine the devastation, looking at the impact those bombs made? About 150 people were killed.
Although a few residents still remain, Ornes too has never been rebuilt, mainly because of the gas and the explosives. Here 700 people died during the war.
And another village that died for France. This one too has never been rebuilt. About 200 inhabitants perished.
As you can see, we were not able to visit all the villages. After Cumières, the sun started to go down and we had to return to Metz. And for the day afterward, we had already made other plans.
Anyway, here are all the other villages that we visited that day on one map.
Wednesday we are back, in another corner of Europe.