Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Images and Voices of Verdun
From Steve Miller and O'Brien Browne

Click on Image to Expand

Verdun Today

Photos by Steve Miller

Verdun Described by the Participants

Flying over the battlefield, American pilot Edwin Parsons, a volunteer for France and a member of the famous Escadrille Lafayette, saw below him how:
Nature had been ruthlessly murdered. Every sign of humanity had been swept away. Roads had vanished, and forests were fire-blackened stumps. Villages were gray smears where stone walls were tumbled together. Only the faintest outlines of the great forts of Douaumont and Vaux could be traced against the churned up background....only broken, half obliterated links of the trenches were visible.

Nothing in the war ever equaled the intense slaughter and gothic, nightmarish qualities of Verdun.

We had no communication with the rear for three days and nights because the bombardment did not let up. We were not even able to get our rations and we only ate biscuits and chocolate and there was almost nothing to drink; finally we were able to get our rations but with a lot of difficulty; therefore, we're glad to get out of here because we've been completely brutalized by the bombardment; one has to have a strong heart to endure such a martyrdom. This is not war, it's a massacre. Oh! when will it end? It's terrible to see what's happening...

~ Letter from a soldier in the line before Fleury, June 1916

I stayed ten days next to a man who was chopped in two; there was no way to move him; he had one leg on the parapet and the rest of this body in the trench. It stank and I had to chew tobacco the whole time in order to endure this torment...

~ Letter from a soldier in the line near Thiaumont, June 1916

It's an unending Hell. I live in a casement at the bottom of the fort with the light on day and night. You can't go out for fear of shell fragments which fall daily into the trenches and onto the fort. In a word, it is solitude in all its horror; when will this veritable martyrdom end?

~ Letter from a soldier in Fort Choisel, June 1916

From: O'Brien Browne's, "Voices from Verdun," Great War Society article, Winter 1998

Alistair Horne's epic and enthralling account of Verdun is still the best available in the English language.

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  1. No kidding. Horne's book is so good that I swiped it from my university's library in 1967. Still have it.

  2. Hi, I have written a script for a dramatisation about three soldiers from WWI and I wonder if it would be possible to use some of the quotes of French soldiers in the play. Do you hold the copyright of the accounts? Regards Dawn