• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3
France and Germany mark Battle of Verdun centenary
Around 300,000 French and German soldiers died in the 10-month battle. Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP

France and Germany mark Battle of Verdun centenary

AFP · 21 Feb 2016, 16:10

Published: 21 Feb 2016 16:10 GMT+01:00

"It was here, 100 years ago, that the first shells fell," said one of the actors as the sound of explosions was re-enacted around him.

"Some 1,400 guns and mortars threw up almost a million shells. Nearly 400 guns were focused on the forest of Caures."

With all the combatants now dead, the commemorations have emphasised educating the young, with thousands of French and German children attending the re-enactment.

"Time has done its work. Today, Verdun is no longer a memory, it is history," said Thierry Hubscher, director of the Verdun Memorial, which has been renovated for the centenary.

A strong point on the long frontline dividing the French and German armies, Verdun in northeastern France was the target of a German offensive whose aim -- according to commander-in-chief Erich von Falkenhayn -- was to "bleed France dry".

One of the most brutal battles in history was waged over a tiny stretch of land and ended with neither side making any significant headway.

Around 300,000 French and German soldiers died in the 10-month battle in which some 30 million shells are estimated to have been fired.

With some three-quarters of France's soldiers having experienced the "hell of Verdun", the battle quickly embedded itself in the country's traumatised psyche, viewed by the French in much the same way as the British saw the Battle of Somme.

French General Robert Nivelle's stirring phrase, "On ne passe pas" ("They shall not pass") came to symbolise the essence of national resistance and was appropriated by military leaders across the world in later years.

But behind that mythologising about courage and sacrifice lay horrific carnage.

For Germans, the soldier of Verdun, striving forward under heavy mortar fire became a mythical hero, praised in Nazi propaganda as the forerunner to the regime's own SS soldiers, said German historian Gerd Krumeich, who has co-written a new book about the battle with a French colleague, Antoine Prost.

Such was the trauma of the battle, however, that it took decades before the governments of France and Germany could contemplate joint commemorations.

In 1966, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer hoped to commemorate the battle of Verdun alongside France's President Charles De Gaulle, but it was deemed too soon, said Prost.

Germany had to wait until 1984 for an official invite, leading to the iconic image of Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand standing hand-in-hand at a memorial ceremony that came to symbolise the new era of peace in the heart of Europe.

Such a moment did not come easily. It was just a few months since Germany had been left out of the 40th anniversary ceremony of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, said Prost.

In all, the First World War killed some 10 million military men and left 20 million injured, many of them disfigured by explosives or poison gas, or reduced to human wrecks by what became known as "shell shock".

Between 1914 and 1918, among the major belligerents, Germany lost 1.9 million troops, Russia 1.7 million, France 1.4 million, the Austro-Hungarian empire a million and Britain 760,000.

Today's headlines
Summer in France: The top ten beaches
Photo: Gomezdegomera/Flickr

How many have you been to?

France braces for busiest day of traffic all summer
Photo: AFP

Thinking of driving this weekend? The French are being advised to think twice.

Opinion
'France has problems but it's not on brink of civil war'
A French police officer stands in front of a Muslim prayer room after it was destroyed by a fire, suspected to be arson, in Ajaccio.. Photo: AFP

While certain French politicians and security chiefs have openly talked of the nightmare prospect of civil war in France, one expert tells The Local the country is too resolute to go down that path.

Ten hidden gems in France you should visit this summer
Photo: Erik Harström/Flickr

Looking for holiday ideas this summer?

What's on: Ten cool things to do in France in August 2016
Photo: AFP

August is almost here - and we've got you covered for events.

Paris in August: Should you stay or should you go now?
Photo: AFP

When it comes to August in Paris, you're either a stayer or a goer. But which is the best choice?

French PM: 'France needs new relationship with Islam'
Photo: AFP

As France struggles to get to grips with an increasing number of terror attacks the French PM says the country needs a new relationship with Islam.

France's Muslims urged to attend mass in solidarity
Photo: AFP

A leading Muslim group in France has called on its community to attend a church mass this Sunday to show solidarity with Christians after the recent jihadist killing of a priest.

Hopes hit as France reports 'disappointing' zero growth
Photo: AFP

Hopes of small economic growth in France were hit on Friday when the latest GDP figures were announced.

Air France strike affects 30,000 passengers each day
Photo: AFP

The week-long Air France cabin crew strike continued on Friday with some 30,000 passengers hit by cancellations each day.

Sponsored Article
5 reasons to try dating in Paris with The Inner Circle
Travel
Summer in France: The top ten beaches
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
France: A timeline of terror since the Charlie Hebdo attack
A timeline of terror in France since Charlie Hebdo
Culture
Thirteen free and easy ways to learn French
Culture
32 mistakes foreigners make when they arrive in France
National
Here are the worst scams to avoid whilst driving in France
Analysis & Opinion
Isis can simply be a conduit for the violent desires of psychopaths
Features
Six outdoor bars in Paris you simply must visit
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Culture
The open-air Villette cinema has been cancelled over security fears
Culture
Henri Rousseau exhibition proves huge hit in Paris
National
Frenchman caught trying to sell Nice massacre souvenirs online
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
OPEN NOW: Here's why you should head to the Paris Plages
Culture
What's on in France: Still plenty to see and do in July
Lifestyle
Treasures of Versailles to go on display in Australia
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
National
How to keep cool during France's heatwave
National
Nice attack: What we know so far
National
Nice attacker: Body-building, drug-taking, violent flirt
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
IN IMAGES: Drawings in tribute to Nice attack victims
Society
Promenade des Anglais: The iconic heart of the French Riviera
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
France faces more questions after latest deadly attack
National
Why is France the target of choice for jihadist attacks?
National
Nice truck attack: 'Bodies went flying like bowling pins'
Nice attack: Families of missing make pleas on Twitter
2,755
jobs available