Blog 11/17/2020 - French Ghost Town

MHT Blog November 17, 2020 – French Ghost Town – Fleury

By James W. White – MHT Tour Leader

Out in the calm and sleepy wilderness to the east of Paris, lies a little village called Fleury. Fleury is not unique but it is rather stark, there are eight other villages just like it in a small, surrounding area.

But oh, does Fleury have a story to tell. You see, Fleury is a ghost town, if you will. Just as in the old west, there are no inhabitants, it was left behind in days gone by. In fact, there is only one building that stands in this village, a memorial chapel that was erected sometime after the destruction that was wrought in this area.

Fleury is nestled within the man-made moonscape and deadly hollows created by artillery fire of a battle that happened over 100 years ago. Fleury is located in the Douaumont area of Verdun. Verdun of course, was the site of arguably the most destructive and brutal battle of World War I, a battle that lasted 10 months around France’s famed ring of forts. The casualty count is often argued and the number that I’ve settled on by best guestimate is 750,000 French and German combined. Casualties being KIA, WIA and MIA combined. However, it is very hard to truly name a number as for many men, there are only parts that were found. The Germans brought 1200 artillery pieces to Verdun and rained more destruction in one place than the world had ever seen.

Prior to the war, there were some 400 inhabitants in Fleury. There were sundry shops and houses in the village area, including a town hall or in French, a mairie.

It was a ubiquitous farm village, which today still blanket the area of the Western Front. However, this farm village is silent. As the fighting built up, the village was evacuated. The men of Verdun fought for every inch of land and this village exchanged hands some 16 times. It was completely annihilated and there are signs in three languages that designate where a building stood and what it was.

There are signs for visitors not to stray off the beaten path, for there may yet be UXO’s (unexploded ordnances). I tell folks about this in the states and they cannot fathom it. But it is most certainly real. On our drives, we almost always come into view of a few UXO’s that farmers have found and laid to the side of a field for bomb crews to handle.

This is rather infamously called the Iron Harvest, also replete with barbed wire, shrapnel, shell frags, bullets and the like. If you travel with me, you are surely to be reminded of it on many occasions and places.
Not far from Fleury is a very large French military cemetery from WWI as well as the Douaumont Ossuary, which holds the estimated partial remains of 130,000 French and German soldiers combined. It is certain that the remains of men who fell in Fleury reside in the ossuary or outside it. In the same area, there is a large German cemetery, as you might imagine.

This writer does not believe in ghosts. However, if you were one to believe, this would be a site of activity in that regard. Today, the battlefields of Verdun are serene. However, there is nowhere on the Western Front with more stark reminders of the Great War than here. If you close your eyes while standing in this little village of Fleury, you might imagine there could never have been hell on earth here.

The Author in a bucket hat (back right) with one of his groups at Verdun Ossuary, join him in France in May.