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War damaged monuments around Verdun in France

This small turret at Fort Douamount clearly shows the impact of bullets and fragments of shells in the fighting in 1916.

On Saturday 27 June one of the sites of memory I will be talking about at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff will be Verdun in France. This is where the most intense fighting between the French and German armies took place in 1916, and ever since it has been the most iconic event of the First World War for the French. Around the town of Verdun a huge area has been declared as ‘terre sacrée’, or hallowed ground, and left as it was after the battle. This area includes several shattered villages, now deserted, and upwards of thirty different forts, many of which were badly damaged by shell fire from both sides during the conflict. Some, like Fort Douamont, which is shown in my photographs here, are now kept as sites for tourists, school parties, and researchers to visit. The fort itself is mainly underground, but the steel gun turrets projecting above ground show extensive damage from shells and bullets. The earth around them is littered with shell holes, with fragments of metal and barbed wire, and the concrete emplacements are suffering from shell damage, and now from weathering. The whole site poses complex questions about memory, conservation, and heritage. More to come on Saturday!

The decaying remnants of defensive works at Fort Douamont litter the shell pocked ground above and around the fort. These artefacts will not last for ever.

The decaying remnants of defensive works at Fort Douamont litter the shell pocked ground above and around the fort. These artefacts will not last for ever.

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This small turret at Fort Douamount clearly shows the impact of bullets and fragments of shells in the fighting in 1916. How will this steel artefact survive in the future?

This small turret at Fort Douamount clearly shows the impact of bullets and fragments of shells in the fighting in 1916. How will this steel artefact survive in the future? Concrete looks as if it will last for ever, but this structure (below) is clearly suffering from the combined effects of war damage and weathering.

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