"Verdun Battlefields" BBC TV 2003

Battlefields of the First World War 1914-18. VERDUN.  (2003 BBC TV Production) (1991 – CONTINUING)

One of the costliest battles of the First World War (1914-18), Verdun exemplified the “war of attrition” strategy which seemed blindly pursued by both sides and which cost so many lives.

By the winter of 1915-16, after two years of stalemate, the German Commander-in Chief, Erich von Falkenhayn, was convinced that the War could only be won on the Western Front. He decided destroy the French Army by mounting a massive attack on a French position “for the retention of which the French Command would be compelled to throw in every man they have”.  To this end, he targeted the town of Verdun and its surrounding forts. The attack commenced on 21 February 1916 in heavy snow, and finally petered out in November with neither side having achieved any significant territorial gains or strategic advantage. The losses suffered by both sides were catastrophic and they spent the following two years extending their vast tunnel systems and strengthening their virtually impregnable defensive lines of trenches, dugouts, machine-gun posts and barbed wire entanglements.

The Somme Offensive, spearheaded by the British Army was launched further North on 1st July 1916 in an attempt by the Allies to achieve a major break-through and also to draw off the German pressure on Verdun.

Since my first visit in 1991 I have spent countless hours exploring and studying these grim battlefields, above and below ground, drawing and painting the forts, some, like Douaumont and Vaux are open to the public. Others, rarely visited, are hidden deep in the forbidden parts of the gloomy forests like the sinister Moulainville, de Souville and Tavannes with their massive 12inch thick steel retractable gun turrets, huge subterranean chambers, corridors, shafts and tunnels, some collapsed, some flooded, all of them dangerous.

This footage was made by a BBC TV team sent to France to film me during one of my expeditions in 2003 and also features me working in the claustrophobic tunnel system at Vauquois in the Argonne.