Lest We Forget: The Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun

On November 11, 1918 the hostilities of World War I ended. And as we know, Remembrance Day honours the soldiers who have died in wars and conflicts.  A visit to the area around Verdun in northeastern France is moving and worthwhile as it is here where part of the western front conflicts of World War I occurred. The casualties were enormous and there are numerous WWI cemeteries and memorials to visit; however, one of the most striking is the Douaumont Ossuary.

The Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun

An ossuary is a container or site that holds human skeletal remains. The Paris Catacombs is an example of an ossuary where the remains of more than 6 million people are located under the streets of Paris. 

Battle Of Verdun

Verdun monument

The Battle of Verdun in WW1 lasted 300 days (February 21-December 18, 1916). There were 700,000 casualties and 230,000 deaths. It was the largest battle of WWI. 

Memorial To The Soldiers

Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun
Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun

The Douaumont Ossuary, on the outskirts of Verdun, contains the remains of the French and German soldiers who died on the battlefield. What was most shocking and sad to me was seeing the unidentified skeletal remains of 130,000 soldiers through the small windows which look into the ossuary. The sight is grim as the bones are in massive piles in each of the 42 alcoves.

The ossuary was inaugurated on August 7, 1932, by French President Albert Lebrun and in addition to the immense piles of bones, inside the ossuary are plaques with the names of many (but not all) of the French soldiers who died in the Battle of Verdun. There are also some plaques naming soldiers who died in World War II and in the Indochina and Korean Wars.

Ossuary Tower

Ossuary Tower

The 449-foot long ossuary is the most striking part of the monument. The ossuary’s tower rises 151 feet, providing panoramic views of the battlefields. On top of the tower is a rotating red and white beacon called the “Lantern of the Dead”. It was a gift from the Americans. The bronze death bell is also located here and is used in special ceremonies. There are also stained glass windows and a cloister with an eternal flame of remembrance. 

In front of the Ossuary is the largest French military cemetery from WWI with over 16,000 graves. More monuments and cemeteries of French and German soldiers are scattered throughout the area near Verdun.

French National Cemetery
French National Cemetery

Verdun And Sites In The Area

Verdun River Meuse

Verdun is a pretty town with the River Meuse running through it. Here are some sites worth visiting in the area:

Citadelle Souterraine de Verdun

Citadelle Souterraine, Verdun

The Citadelle Souterraine is an underground shelter that was in fact dug out under the citadel in the late 1800s. It is a museum that takes you on a moving train or tram with an audioguide and explains what life was like during WW1.

Fort de Vaux and Fort Douaumont

I regret not going to either fort yet wish I had had the time. They are located just to the east of the Douaumont Ossuary and show how the soldiers lived and fought. There are interesting tours underground (note: cold and damp inside) and above ground in the forts. It’s hard to imagine what the soldiers had to endure during the Battle of Verdun and from the reviews, both forts are worth visiting.

You might also like to check out these posts about the Unofficial Christmas Truce during World War 1 and the World War 2 Normandy Invasions 

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Lest we forget: Douaumont Ossuary

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