Verdun France is often compared to Gettysburg. Just as Americans should all know of the devastation on that Pennsylvania farmland and the lives lost during the American Civil War, all French citizens know Verdun and the bloodshed that occurred here for 10 months in 1916, during the Great War.
The Battle of Verdun began in February and ended in December. It was the longest battle of the First World War with more than 700,000 casualties.
Verdun should be your base when visiting northern France, specifically if you are interested in learning more about World War I. It is located in the Meuse region, near where Americans made their presence known in the second half of 1918.
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Where to Stay in Verdun France
André Preux was a teenager, a stretcher bearer whose job was to help bring the many dead and wounded back to aid stations and hospitals behind the lines. It had to have been gruesome, physically exhausting work in the mud and gore of trench warfare.
We learned about young André Preux from his grandson Fabrice, one of the owners of the Hotel Montaulbain in Verdun. Fabrice and his partner, Victor, had re-opened the historic hotel after months of renovation, just three weeks before my sister and I arrived. The carpets, the bedding, everything had that “new hotel” smell to it.
They were exceedingly proud of their investment and accomplishments, chatting the whole way in English that was much better than my French, as they helped us carry our luggage to our room. The building dates to the 14th century, was once a prison, and also a town hall during the reign of King Louis XIV.
We had had a bit of trouble finding the hotel on the narrow street and Fabrice had come to our rescue, meeting us at a larger intersection and hopping in our rental car to show us the way. It was dark and we were tired, and oh, how we appreciated Fabrice making that extra effort for us.
Meeting Descendants of the Battle of Verdun
The next morning in the bright breakfast room, Fabrice began to tell us about plans for decorating that room. He brought out an old photo and a velvet covered board with a number of faded ribbons and military medals. The photo was of his grandfather, André Preux, in his World War I uniform.
Until that moment, Fabrice did not know of our journey, why my sister and I had come from Missouri to northern France and this lovely hotel. I disappeared to our room and quickly returned with a framed photo of our grandfather, Wilbert Eastman, who also served in World War I.
The bond was immediate, the pride in our grandfathers overflowing the small breakfast room. I think Fabrice was on the verge of tears. I know I was, and my sister as well. That they both survived the brutality of World War I, became fathers and grandfathers is nothing short of a miracle. And now they have grandchildren who are bound in friendship, 100 years later, by the war to end all wars.