While WW1 ended nearly a century ago, its scars can still be found across Northern France and Belgium. Zone Rouge (French for Red Zone) is perhaps the ultimate example of this.
At the end of the war in 1918, the French government isolated the areas in red above and forbade activities such as forestry, farming and even the building of houses from being performed inside them.
In total the non-contiguous areas took up 1,200 sq km (460 sq mi) (roughly the size of New York City).
The primary reason the areas were declared no-go zones was that they had seen some of the worst fighting during the war, particularly during the Battle of Verdun in 1916. The areas were environmentally devastated and contained large numbers of unexploded ordnance along with human and animal remains that further contaminated the environment.
The Battle of Verdun lasted 303 days and was one of the longest and bloodiest in human history with somewhere between 700,000 and 1,250,000 casualties in total. It also resulted in the destruction of villages, 6 of which have never been rebuilt.
Over the last century work has been done to clean up Zone Rouge and today the no-go areas have shrunk to 168 sq KM (65 sq mi) (about twice the size of Manhattan).
However, cleaning up the areas doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re safe. Nor that areas that were not included in the original Zone Rouge are without danger. The Iron harvest, which uncovers unexploded ordnance, barbed wire, shrapnel, bullets and congruent trench supports, still occurs every year across North France and Belgium.
Since the end of the war, at least 900 people have been killed by unexploded WW1 ordnance across France and Belgium, with most recent deaths as late as 1998. Meaning that the war was still claiming victims 80 years after the cease-fire went into effect.
A blog post really can’t do this topic much justice so I highly recommend learning more from the following books:
- The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916
- Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War
- A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
- Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918
- Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
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