On Sunday, 28 May, our group visited Samogneux, a ruined village near Verdun. When we say ‘ruined village’, we mean it without qualification. In 1916, Samogneux ceased to exist; one of the first villages attacked during the Germans’ Verdun Offensive of February through December 1916, Samogneux, which sits within a shallow ravine cascading down the side of a tall hill north of Verdun, became a lunar ruin, every house destroyed to its collapsed foundations, every tree obliterated, every blade of grass burned away. It is still within a ‘red zone’ of uninhabitable spaces; no one may live there still, so poisoned is the land, even though now it appears as a lush landscape of a forest-covered slope.
We went looking for Samogneux thinking that we would find only a barren crossroads, but instead found a find interpretive center well worth the visit, along with a chapel. Very nicely done, indicating the families displaced, who they were, what they did, and so on, prior to the battle. A half-million casualties on the French side and perhaps just somewhat fewer on that of the Germans. 160,000 and 145,000 dead. But what of the civilians displaced and/or killed? Samogneux tells us some of the story.
Bucknellians served as ambulance drivers late in the Verdun conflict near Samogneux. That is what brought is there.
What struck me most was a lovely spring, a beautiful cold-water spring emanating straight from the earth with a healthy flow, ruined and poisoned by man’s folly. The playground of fairies….do they still come and frolic, I wonder, in quiet hours or quiet shadows? This spring has probably served man for thousands of years, and animals many more. But now it just sits placid, unused, like the serum into which the Evil Queen dipped her poison apples. How could we do such a thing?