France marks 90th anniversary of Verdun battle

21st February 2006, Comments 0 comments

VERDUN, France, Feb 21, 2006 (AFP) - France on Tuesday marked the 90th anniversary of the start of the World War I battle of Verdun, the 10 months of mutual bombardment by the French and German armies that killed 300,000 men and later became a symbol of the futility of war.

VERDUN, France, Feb 21, 2006 (AFP) - France on Tuesday marked the 90th anniversary of the start of the World War I battle of Verdun, the 10 months of mutual bombardment by the French and German armies that killed 300,000 men and later became a symbol of the futility of war.

A costumed re-enactment with readings was staged in the Caures Forest outside Verdun in eastern France, where at dawn on February 21, 1916, the opening shots of the battle were fired.

Religious services and wreath-laying ceremonies were being held throughout the day — some on the sites of the nine "disappeared villages" which were wiped from the map in the most intense and longest concentration of artillery fire that had ever been seen.

US soprano Barbara Hendricks was later to perform with a Swedish choir in Verdun's cathedral. On Monday night she sang two Negro spirituals at the Douaumont ossuary, where the remains of 130,000 French and German soldiers are kept.

Commemorations will continue throughout the year, with a high point in June when President Jacques Chirac will inaugurate a memorial to Muslim soldiers from France's colonies who died in the battle.

Recent excavations at the memorial site near the Douaumont ossuary have brought to light hundreds of shells, grenades and other munitions. Human remains are regularly discovered in the environs.

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

Initial German successes — notably the capture of the Douaumont fort — were stemmed as the French army funnelled in reserves down the road from Bar-le-Duc, which came to be known as the "Voie Sacrée" (Sacred Way). By early November, France had retaken its lost ground.

Some 30 million shells are estimated to have been fired during the battle, and every town and village of France had soldiers who saw action there.

The future Vichy ruler Philippe Pétain won his reputation as commander-in-chief at Verdun, and his later willingness to capitulate to Nazi Germany in World War II has been widely attributed to his experiences there.

A photograph of the French and German leaders François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl holding hands at the Verdun battle site in 1984 has become a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

 

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