100 years on, buried WWI shells pose threat in French fields

Mon Aug 4, 2014 9:54am EDT
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By Antony Paone

VERDUN France (Reuters) - The fields and woods around Verdun, site of one of the most devastating and protracted battles of World War One, may now appear tranquil. But remnants of the war - unexploded ordnance - still pose a threat 100 years on.

The 10-month Battle of Verdun ranks among the bloodiest encounters in the Great War, its unrelenting hailstorm of ammunition killing hundreds of thousands French and German soldiers from February to December 1916.

French and German Presidents Francois Hollande and Joachim Gauck both attended commemoration ceremonies in Alsace and Liege on Sunday and Monday to mark the war's start and pledge Franco-German solidarity.

But in this area of northeastern France, and across the border into Belgium, the fallout from the fighting still lingers.

Farmers and hikers around Verdun say they regularly find discarded artillery shells and grenades, vestiges of the war that are still potentially lethal.

"I can't tell you how many I find sometimes," said Roland Dabit, a resident of the nearby hamlet of Somogneux.

"Even in the forest. How many are there in the forest? How many? Believe me, when we go mushroom-picking, I see a hundred shells," Dabit told Reuters.

Farmer Alain Doyen says that after tilling the earth in his fields, he often finds old German shells.   Continued...

WWI shell craters are seen below the Douaumont cemetery with its Abri 320 (Rear C) a large four shelter French bunker system near Verdun, northeastern France, in this March 30, 2014 file picture. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files