Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

First World War battlefield in Verdun still a danger with thousands of exploded shells 100 years on

Nearly 100 years since the end of the First World War and there are still areas of France unsafe to be visited because of unexploded shells.

Some 300,000 soldiers were killed in the Battle of Verdun between France and Germany from February to December 1916.

During the onslaught, around six million shells - including many containing mustard gas - were fired by the opposing sides. One million of those failed to explode.

Dozens of unexploded shells are unearthed every day.

At the end of The Great War, France bought the battlefield land from villagers and designated it a "red zone", and since then it has been inaccessible to the public.

For years, bomb disposal experts have slowly been removing the ordinances, finding dozens of shells a day, but experts fear the work may yet require another century to be completed.

The Battle of Verdun cost 300,000 lives.

The land on which Verdun was fought was originally agricultural land, fields upon fields.

But except for shell removal squads, nobody has set foot there since the war's end, and the area now resembles a forest.

Pierre Moreno, one of the bomb experts, told ITV News he thinks it will take years to clear the land.

"There are still tonnes and tonnes," he said.

"There will be decades, centuries, of work for us, because the ammunition is buried and every year it is rising naturally to the surface."

Experts believe it may take another 100 years to clear the forest.

This year alone, some 500 tonnes of shells have been removed from the ground, and are currently being stored until they are disposed of by way of controlled explosion.

Experts fear that the land make never be able to be used again - certainly not for agricultural purposes.

While those who died in the Battle of Verdun are remembered 100 years on, the legacy it inflicted upon the land on which it was fought continues to be felt too.

Some of the unexploded shells contained mustard gas.