The battle fields of Chemin des Dames

The view of Verdun from the hotel room is nice, but we decide to stick to the theme and so we leave for the Fort de Vaux after breakfast. We passed it yesterday so we decide to forgo the help of the GPS and find our way ourselves. Serendipitously, we stop at one of the entrances to the Fort de Souville and we decide to do one of the walks marked on the info panel. It’s a beautiful path through the trees, passing by the fort and several outlying gun placements. It’s not well marked, but I track our progress via the Wikiloc app on my phone so we’re able to make the right choices when it gets confusing. The landscape is the same as we’ve seen around Le Mort Homme, there are so many trenches and shell craters that there is no level ground left. The info panels show what it looked like before and after the war and the difference is unbelievable. Before: countryside with fields, houses and trees. During and after: literally nothing left standing. Now: thriving forest.

We find our way to the Fort de Vaux, where we visit the museum inside the underground fortification. Each of these places has a poignant story with unbelievably high numbers of soldiers killed and ammunition spent, without gaining a significant amount of ground in the four years they were fighting here.

At the Cave du Dragon we follow a guided tour with a class of young local teenagers, the guide explains how the soldiers here (French, then German, then French again, etc.) lived in this underground complex underneath the battlefield of the Chemin des Dames. Her story is simple and targeted to engage these young people but that doesn’t make it any less shocking, only easier to understand for us because she doesn’t use any difficult French words. We come out from the cold cavern into the warm day and drive to the Plateau de Californie where we follow another short educational trail to an observation tower, affording great views of the surrounding countryside. The elevated position is exactly the reason why there was such fierce fighting here.

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