|Meuse River as it flows through City of Verdun today.|
The Citadel, literally a fortification dug into the hillside south of the old city, served as the headquarters for protection of the this city. Today, the cave-like structure astounds for its durability and its vast expanse. Yes, it smells of mild dew. Yes, it is dark and dreary. But yes, it is also one of the most awe-inspiring sites in the northeast sector of front line Great War sites.
One story in particular about Verdun's Citadel that I found in primary records was of an American nurse who was sent with two orderlies up and an ambulance driver (from a base hospital south of Verdun) to the fortification. Their purpose was to lead back shell-shocked Doughboys. The US Medical Corps did operate a few base hospitals totally devoted to those who suffered from shell-shock, or as we now term it, PTSD. Usually these soldiers were examined by doctors carefully before they were categorized as needing (as they termed it) "neuro-psychiatric" treatment. But in this particular case, the need seemed urgent and the normal routine was suspended. This was most likely due to the intense fighting of our troops in this Meuse-Argonne sector. Many orderly rituals of wound/disability analysis changed rapidly out of necessity as the fighting increased in the September through November 1918 in this region.
Did I include this in my novel, HEROIC MEASURES? I did want to. But as often occurs in plotting, the need to make the actions logical and the rule of thumb to ensure they are useful to the story arc, meant that I gave that up—and list it here for those of you who love intriguing historical fact as much as I do! What I did do in the novel was discuss briefly how neuro-psych cases were usually sent to one particular base hospital up in this northeast sector, a hospital by the name of La Faure.
Tours of the Citadel continue to this day and justly so in this vast cave that once housed thousands of French soldiers and their generals. Here, men lived and worked in the bitter cold and damp. French poilus baked their comrades' bread here, prepared their meals, repaired guns, collected ammunition and planned strategies to hold the city and the mountains surrounding it.
Notable for their tenacity here, the French sought to retain control over this town and river by sheer force of will. Outnumbered often throughout the four years of war, they held on. The ground around the city and up into the hills is riddled with foxholes, bomb craters and trench lines. It seems unimaginable to calculate the tens of thousands of men who lost their lives and were wounded here. In the town itself, thousands of civilians lost their lives, their homes, their livestock and livelihoods as the bombs continued to fall over and over again.
|Entrance to Citadel, Verdun, carved into the side of this mountain. Tour possible. Do visit to marvel|
at French dedication to hold this fort and city at all costs.
|French 75 mm cannon emplacement, circa 1914-1919, outside entrance, protecting The Citadel.|
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