André Ruiter Stereoscopy

The Verdun Battlefield ∽ Past to Present

January 15, 2020
The Verdun Battlefield ∽ Past to Present - B&W photographer and collector of antique photographica
My photo project about the First World War started in Verdun in 2009. Nine years later I started collecting stereoviews of the war. This created a nice interaction between these two passions. I’m now searching for stereoviews with images of locations that I've photographed during my photo project, but I also started taking new photos of locations that I recognised from stereoviews.

Entree de l'ouvrage des 4 Cheminées

Verdun - Entree de l'ouvrage des 4 cheminées
8592 - Entree de l'ouvrage des 4 cheminées
6x13 glass stereoview by LSU

I recognised this location immediately when I found this stereoview on eBay. It’s a small ammunition store near the shelter Abri de Quatre Cheminées but it’s not the entrance to this shelter, as the description suggests. It’s located next to a road and I’ve passed it many times. I didn't think it was a very interesting photo, but that changed when this stereoview became part of my collection. I photographed it last November. Little has changed in 100 years and even the original fence is still in place.

Verdun battlefield
November 2019

Entree du Fort de Souville

Verdun - Entree du Fort de Souville
8641 - Entree du Fort de Souville
6x13 glass stereoview by LSU

This is a fairly well-known stereoview that often pops up in online auctions. The description of this slide is also incorrect. It’s not the entrance to Fort de Souville, but a battery named Tourelle Bussière that is located near the fort. Nowadays it’s easy accessible via a walking trail.

Tourelle Bussière
November 2019

Maison Fortifiée Froideterre

Verdun - Maison Fortifiée Froideterre
475 - Maison Fortifiée Froideterre M.F.2
45x107 glass stereoview by SDV

Again a wrong description, because this is the real entrance to Fort de Souville and not the smaller fortification Ouvrage de Froideterre. Fort de Souville was almost completely destroyed during the battle of Verdun and it’s ironic that the gate is one of the few remains that is still standing. It’s one of my favourite locations on the battlefield and I've visited the site a lot for my photo project. During my last visit in November 2019 I noticed that a tree had fallen on the gate and damaged the left arch. Nature slowly erases the traces of the battle...

Fort de Souville
October 2013

Fort de Douaumont - Entree bombardée

Fort de Douaumont - Entree bombardée
480 - Fort de Douaumont - Entree bombardée
6x13 glass stereoview by Brentano's

Fort de Douaumont is one of the most well known and most visited places of the Verdun battlefield. As a result, it’s often crowded and that makes it difficult to imagine which horrors have taken place here. A visit to the fort during autumn, on a quiet and misty day, is best suited to taste the atmosphere of this impressive structure.

Verdun battlefield - Fort de Douaumont
November 2018

What about the incorrect descriptions?

It's striking that for some stereoviews the description on the slide is not correct. I also mentioned this earlier in my post about Fort de Troyon, where this fort was wrongly classified as Fort de Douaumont. I'm sure about this because over the years I have become very familiar with the battlefield and its fortifications. The question is: what's the reason for this? Is it inaccuracy or did it maybe happen deliberately?

The stereoviews with images of the war were a hype in the early 1920s in France. Companies saw the commercial opportunities and started producing and selling the images on a large scale. They were primarily intended for entertainment rather than being a historically correct reference.

In my opinion the incorrect descriptions were mainly caused by inaccuracy under commercial pressure to deliver quickly. It's also known that the photographers of the SPA were sometimes inaccurate in capturing notes with the photos and this would result in incorrect descriptions after publication. But it cannot be ruled out that incorrect descriptions were also deliberately added because it was commercially more interesting. For example, Fort de Douaumont was an iconic symbol among the general public and perhaps that's why its name appears on many slides. Even if the photos were taken somewhere else...