After the annexation of Lorraine’s Moselle département and Alsace by Germany in 1871, Verdun became a front-line outpost. Over the next four decades it was turned into the most important and heavily fortified element in France’s eastern defence line.

During WWI, Verdun itself was never taken by the Germans, but the evacuated town was almost totally destroyed by artillery bombardments. In the hills to the north and east of Verdun, the brutal combat – carried out with artillery, flame-throwers and poison gas – completely wiped out nine villages. During the last two years of WWI, more than 800,000 soldiers (some 400,000 French and almost as many Germans, along with thousands of the Americans who arrived in 1918) lost their lives in this area.