Fleury-devant-Douaumont before WWI
Fleury-devant-Douaumont had 422 inhabitants on the eve of the Great War.
It was located on the heights of the Douaumont hill, some 8km northeast of Verdun.
The villagers led a peaceful existence until the late 19th century, when they found themselves at the center of a line of defense forts (Douaumont, Souville, Vaux and Froideterre) built after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71.
Their lives change forever during the Battle of Verdun, the German offensive of 1916.
Initially, the erection of the defense forts generated work and prosperity.
Small shops, various workshops and an inn appeared to serve construction workers and military personnel.
But Fleury-devant-Douaumont was already a few kilometers away from the front, when the Battle of the Marne broke out in 1914.
Many soldiers were stationed there during the next two years, but the business they generated seemed to have obliterated the reality of the war.
16 February 1916
Danger seemed distant until 16 February 1916, when the villagers were evacuated to Verdun and Bras-sur-Meuse.
The fall of the Fort of Douaumont on February 24, 1916, altered forever the fate of Fleury-devant-Douaumont.
The incessant bombardment and the capture of the Fort de Vaux by the Germans on June 7, 1916 pushed Fleury-devant-Douaumont in the front line.
On June 23, the Germans captured the village, then La Poudrière, an advance post located farther down the slope, on July 11.
The French re-seized the position on June 24, but lost it shortly after.
Fleury-devant-Douaumont had become a key location in the Battle of Verdun.
It was alternately occupied 16 times by the French and the Germans between June 23 and August 18, 1916, when the soldiers of the French Colonial Troops from Morocco re-captured it for good.
By then Fleury-devant-Douaumont was a vast field of ruins, which served as starting point for the French offensives that led to the re-capture of the forts of Douaumont and Vaux.
The village was classified as Zone Rouge (Red Zone) in 1918, and officially recognized as “Mort pour la France” – Dead for France.
Fleury-devant-Douaumont, Village Detruit
In 1919 it was granted the status of Village Détruit (destroyed village), a status it tragically shared with eight other villages of the Meuse, which were never rebuilt.
In the early 1930s the villagers erected the War Memorial in the upper section of the site, and the current chapel on the site of the old church.
The small memorial chapel was named Our Lady of Europe in 1979, a name sealed on its facade to symbolize the reconciliation of the nations and to pay tribute to all the soldiers who fought in the conflict.
The chapel contains a fresco depicting a Piēta, and a stained glass window created by Grüber and representing an infantryman.
Not only the village was never rebuilt, but it has been kept in its war state.
The current paths follow the lay-out of the original village streets, and the bollards mark the location of the buildings that lined them.
A path leads down to La Poudrière and the vestiges of the old guard post in the Ravin des Vignes.
Fleury-devant-Douaumont – The discovery of 26 Poilus
Fleury-devant-Douaumont was the site of an exceptional event, when in 2013, German tourists discovered human bones in a crater located near the chapel.
The farm that once stood on this spot had been transformed into an advanced dressing station during the war.
The bodies of 26 French soldiers, who died of their wounds, had been placed in the basement when the building was destroyed by a German bomb.
The excavations, carried out shortly after, uncovered their skeletons, but only 7 men could be identified thanks to their military plate.
Three of their descendants could be traced.
Two wished to repatriate their grandfathers’ remains in their town of origin.
The 3rd person wanted her grandfather to rest among his fellow soldiers at Douaumont.
An official ceremony took place at the Ossuaire de Douaumont on December 5, 2013 to honour the memory of the 26 Poilus, and 24 were re-interred in the cemetery.
The crater where their remains were found is now marked by a beautiful sculpture.
Carved directly from a tree trunk, it represents a Poilu, a French soldier of the Great War, standing guard of the ground that was their burial ground for 97 years!
You’ll find the War Memorial in the upper section of Fleury-devant-Douaumont, but you’ll also come across various sculptures scattered here and there.
They are all moving in their own way, but the one I have kept for the end, is a Dove of Peace, designed in a concrete slab.
Its silhouette symbolically represents the original lay-out of the village, and embedded stones mark the location of the houses.Free access
Other sites of the Battle of Verdun:
Citadel of Verdun – Sacred Way – Douaumont Ossuary and National Cemetery – Abri 320 – Bayonet Trench – Fort of Douaumont – Maginot Monument in Fleury-devant-Douaumont
Department of Meuse – Lorraine – Grand Est
Coordinates Fleury-devant-Douaumont: Lat 49.198109 – Long 5.427765