Monday, 28 June 2010

Swiss Roll - Day 4 Route

After a day off (to an extent) from prominent battlefields, the fourth day of our ride to Switzerland along the route of the First World War's Western Front takes us to one of the bloodiest encounter between the allies and Germans - Verdun.

Like the Somme for the English, for the French Verdun has come to symbolise the horror of war (or, to use a later example, France's Stalingrad).  While it was a battle that the French ultimately won - in the sense that the Germans failed to accomplish their goals - it was at a terrible cost, with a quarter of a million dead and at least half a million injured.

The iconic photograph capturing the death of a French Lieutenant, during the battle of Verdun
Verdun was a crucial point in the French defences against the Germans, with a string of forts around it.  In 1916 the German offensives elsewhere on the front had stalled so they planned to attack Verdun to 'bleed France white' with a battle of attrition (or so they claimed after the war, they might very well have hoped for a breakthrough).

But in the event, the French held - making the reputation of  General (later Marshall) Petain, who went on to ignominy as the collaborationist leader (whatever his motivation) of Vichy France during the Second World War.

Anyway, back to the day's cycle, which takes us 86 miles from Sainte-Minehould to Nancy.  It's mainly flat countryside with short sharp hills around Verdun and before Nancy:

Bike route 385870 - powered by Bikemap 

After leaving Sainte-Menehould we have thirty miles before Verdun.  As well as the town itself, James is keen to see the Ossuary at Douaumont a few miles north, which is a memorial to the men who died, from both sides, and contains the skeletons of around 130,000 unidentified men.

Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun
Unless we start very early, we won't have much time to linger as we have another 15 miles before lunch and 40 miles in the afternoon before we get to Nancy, which looks very beautiful from the guidebooks, to stop for the night.

1 comment:

  1. I always did say you were a bit of a nancy boy matthew - good luck!