Guided tour of Verdun battlefields

Aug 5th, 2009, 06:39 PM
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Guided tour of Verdun battlefields

My husband and I are visiting Verdun in May 2010 and we'd like to hire a hire an English-speaking guide to take us around the Verdun battlefields, instead of taking the French-speaking tour from the TI. (We speak some French, but in our experience French guides are a bit too hard to follow.) Does anyone have recommendations? We could either stay in Verdun overnight or do the tour as a daytrip from Reims.
carolynk is offline  
Aug 5th, 2009, 06:47 PM
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Bookmarking to see replies.
Jean is online now  
Aug 6th, 2009, 09:41 AM
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Topping for both carolynk and me.
Jean is online now  
Aug 7th, 2009, 12:37 PM
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I'm topping this in hopes of getting some help. I'm particularly frustrated because I'm sure I remember reading about a good guide in one of my guidebooks when I first started thinking about this trip a year ago, but for the life of me I can't find where I saw it. Any advice would be very much appreciated!
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Aug 7th, 2009, 01:15 PM
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I had a look at google.co.uk thinking there would be more interest in Verdun from the UK ...

http://www.kimberbattlefieldtours.co...d.php?Verdun-5

http://www.drttours.co.uk/WorldWarI.html

Might be worth a look...
ParisAmsterdam is offline  
Aug 7th, 2009, 01:58 PM
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Thank you ParisA! Both companies' tours look to be very comprehensive.
Jean is online now  
Aug 7th, 2009, 02:01 PM
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I will be spending a day in Verdun in September on the way from the UK to Austria. I am not planning to do a guided tour, but only yesterday got from Amazon: "Verdun 1916: Battlefield Guide" by William F. Buckingham which on a first look seems to give excellent instructions on where to find things. The first part of the book is an account of the conflict. If you have no joy with a guide it might be a starting point.

I also have bookmarked:

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...ern-france.cfm

and:

http://www.ww1battlefields.co.uk/verdun/douaumont.html

As it was a French thing there isn't a vast amount in English about this part of WW1. I'd be interested to know how you get on.
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Aug 7th, 2009, 10:06 PM
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Thanks to everyone who responded. Stfc, I think I'll definitely order that book. Yes, I remember AnselmAdorne's beautifully written account--it's probably the major reason why we're going to Verdun, and I've printed it out. ParisAmsterdam, thanks. I don't know if those companies will work, because they seem to run multi-day tours originating in Britain--we're hoping to find a guide for a day visiting battlefields and monuments, starting either in Verdun or Reims. But it's probably worth checking to see if they'll arrange an individual guide. Perhaps with stfc's book we'll feel confident enough to drive ourselves around.
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Sep 29th, 2009, 02:00 PM
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I'll kick this thread off again in the hope that carolynk finds it.

I'm back now from my day in the Verdun area, wouldn't have missed it for the world. In one complete day we visited the Tranche des Baionettes, the Ossuary, Fort Douaument, Froidterre, Quatre Cheminees, Fleury and the associated museum, and Mort Homme. This as well as a very pleasant lunch in Bras-sur-Meuse and a 45 minute sit in the car (listening to BBC Radio 4) for rain in the early afternoon. We didn't go into the city at all, for time reasons.

Two things struck home soon after we started: firstly, the 'Champ de Bataille' does not cover a vast area at all, which is why we achieved as much as we did. All the places listed above are close to each other, except for Mort Homme which was just a few miles past our hotel in Marre. Secondly, the ground is churned up by shell holes everywhere, but everywhere. It is difficult to appreciate the intensity of the fighting until you see that.

I found the book by William F. Buckingham ideal. It is small as well so easily carried. Rather than using a professional guide (more later) I found it easy to read bits as we went round. I even failed to bore my wife who I think was rather taken aback by the whole thing. I can't recommend a bit of pre-study too much. It sounds nerdy but it makes all the difference between understanding slightly or just looking at memorials and smashed up concrete blankly.

Do go to the Ossuary and Fort Douaumont whatever your other plans. Pay a little extra to go up the Ossuary tower, the view is superb, and there is a visual guide at each window. The multi-lingual audiovisual show downstairs is worthwhile too. I hadn't realised that some of the bones are on view through small windows at the back. That was a breath-catching moment. Go inside Fort Douaument too, also worth a few euros.

I'm reading Alistair Horne's book at the moment and it is so much easier to visualise now I've been to many of the places.

Our hotel? Le Village Gaulois in Marre. An 'individual' establishment but we ate and drank well there. The road to Marre from the outskirts of Verdun lies just north of the Bois Bourrus ridge. We approached Verdun from the motorway along the last few miles of the Voie Sacree by the railway track so Mrs stfc had had two history lessons by the time we arrived.

The guide? At Mort Homme we spotted a N American couple being shown round by an English guide. There was a vehicle parked next to ours with a British registration and a company label on the side, but I forget which company. So English-speaking tours are available. Personally, I preferred the way we did it. We shall return one day.
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Sep 29th, 2009, 03:43 PM
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Thank you, thank you! Especially for the book reco.

In a "perfect" itinerary, how many days would you spend in the area?
Jean is online now  
Sep 29th, 2009, 05:12 PM
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I missed this thread first time around.

"I can't recommend a bit of pre-study too much. It sounds nerdy but it makes all the difference between understanding slightly or just looking at memorials and smashed up concrete blankly."

Perfectly said, stfc. I couldn't agree more, and yes, Alistair Horne's account of the 1916 conflict is indeed the most comprehensive English language history I could find.

Jean, if you are an American (or, like me, simply a student of the Great War), you may want to add the Meuse-Argonne battlefields to your Verdun itinerary. When I went to Verdun in 2007 I looked at primarily the French battlefields but added Butte-de-Montfaucon and the American cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon as an afterthought (www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/ma.php). I was, however, unfamiliar with the scope of the American effort, so we plan to return next year for a more thorough tour of the places the American Expeditionary Forces fought in September to November, 1918. (I am reading Edward Lengel's To Conquer Hell — The Meuse-Argonne, 1918 at the moment.)

I'd allow a minimum of two days and preferably three days for the French (1916) and American (1918) battlefields. If constrained by time, skip the city of Verdun itself.

Anselm
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Sep 29th, 2009, 05:21 PM
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carolynk, about a guide for the Verdun battlefields: I have read repeated references to Christina Holstein, who has written a couple of books about Verdun. I don't know how to contact her or whether she still offers tours, but Google might help.

Take a look, too, at the Great War Forum at http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/fo...ex.php?act=idx You can search ("Verdun guide", for example) or register and post a question.

I was about to say "enjoy your trip", but that isn't quite the right sentiment for any Great War site.

AA
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Sep 29th, 2009, 05:24 PM
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That link to the Meuse-Argonne cemetery should have been:

www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/ma.php

AA
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Sep 29th, 2009, 06:32 PM
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Thank you, Anselm. The Meuse-Argonne will definitely be part of my visit. My great-uncle was shot down over Damvillers and is buried at the U.S. cemetery. My great-grandmother made a pilgrimage to her son's grave in 1930 as a guest of the U.S. Government. I plan to follow her itinerary from Paris to his grave and then on to some towns in my family tree along the France/Belgium border. We're considering driving parts of the Paris-Roubaix cycling race course in reverse back to Paris but haven't yet determined how realistic that is.

Thanks also for the additional book recommendations. I have no timeframe (yet) for this trip, so there's lots of time for study.
Jean is online now  
Sep 29th, 2009, 06:49 PM
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"My great-uncle was shot down over Damvillers and is buried at the U.S. cemetery."

Jean, I remember now. You quoted one of his letters in that other trip report I did about my wife's Uncle Harry.

I wish you well on your journey.
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Sep 29th, 2009, 11:28 PM
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Thanks, Anselm. Your trip report, elsewhere, was excellent. I would recommend three days to cover the area comprehensively, including Verdun itself, although I can see a risk of getting all 'concreted out' after a while. As much as anything seeing the geography of the area made the story a lot clearer. The countryside is quite attractive in its own right.

Jean, was your great-uncle in the Lafayette Squadron? Horne writes well about them.
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Sep 30th, 2009, 04:27 PM
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Thanks again, Anselm.

stfc, my great-uncle was a pilot in the 91st Aero Squadron (Observation). After the war, air fields in the home towns of my great-uncle and his observer were named in their honor. Although the one named for my great-uncle no longer exists, the one in Denver honoring his observer eventually became Lowry Air Force Base.
Jean is online now  
Oct 3rd, 2009, 07:09 PM
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Anselm and STFC, thanks so much for your posts--I thought the thread was dead! Anselm, let me compliment you on your post of a couple of years ago; it was sheer poetry. I tried a google search for Christina Holstein but she doesn't seem to be giving tours any more. However, she did write a book, "Walking Verdun," which I think I'll order. I've tried to register on the Great War Forum but I'm having trouble with the website; I'll see if that yields anything. STFC, thanks for your report--it was very helpful. I think it's worth ordering the Buckingham book, too. We're Americans, but we don't have any relatives that actually fought at Verdun (that I know of--my Mother's cousin was killed in World War I, but I don't know where.) But I've always been haunted by the waste and horror of that war, which was responsible for so many of the ills of the modern world: the rise of Hitler and therefore the Holocaust; World War II; much of the mess in the Middle East; even the spread of the 1918 flu pandemic (which killed two of my aunts in childhood). And it was one of the most unnecessary of all wars. Anyway, even if we can't find a guide, your helpful posts should ensure that we don't miss the most important sights.
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Oct 4th, 2009, 05:42 AM
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Hi carolynk,

Out of curiosity, I just did a bit of searching on the Great War Forum and turned up some information:

Christina Holstein posts on that forum. Here's a link to a thread about her new book Walking Verdun. You have to skip the first several posts about the release date; the helpful part starts at 10:28 on 11 August:

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/fo...pic=121593&hl=

If you can solve your Great War Forum registration problem, you could send her a "personal message" through the forum. That would clear up the question of whether she is still conducting guided tours or not.

I also found a thread that talked about guides in general (I had no idea that they could be so expensive), and it also contains a reference to an Ingrid Ferrand, who also does tours of Verdun:

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/fo...pic=117633&hl=

Thanks for your kind words about my trip report.

AA
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Oct 4th, 2009, 02:36 PM
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Hi, Anselm,

Thanks for all your help. I finally managed to register on the GW forum and check out your links, which were very interesting. Apparently I can't send or receive PMs there until I've posted 10 times, but I guess I'll go ahead and post my question and see what happens. Ingrid Ferrand doesn't seem to have a website any more, unfortunately, but I did find one name, David Heal, in the thread you sent me--he sounds worth checking out. I've ordered Christina Holstein's book, and if all else fails, it should help us tour on our own!

Thanks again.

Carolyn
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