The Legacy of War – The Red Zone

What do you think this is all about? 

Well, here’s the full map, doubtless the only one you’ll ever see with Paris apparently in mid-Wales.  It shows, and I quote, ‘in a graphic form what would have happened in this country if the war had been fought here instead of on the other side of the Channel.’  And it’s worth a minute of your time, perhaps,…

…as is this map.  When I was younger and first heard about the Red Zone (Zone Rouge), it was many years before I managed to separate myth from truth, and it may be that I have still failed to do so.  But as far as I understand it the Red Zone was, and is, or at least bits of it still are, forbidden territory to the likes of you and me.

Defined after the Great War as areas that were ‘Completely devastated. Damage to properties: 100%. Damage to Agriculture: 100%. Impossible to clean. Human life impossible’, the Red Zone originally covered some 460 square miles of land in north east France in which all human activity was prohibited and the land allowed to return to some sort of nature.

Saturated with unexploded shells, many, of course, still containing lethal gases, the soil polluted by lead, mercury, arsenic, chlorine, phosgene and acids of all sorts, and littered with vast quantities of ordnance and human and animal remains, these are areas where the vast majority of all plant life still cannot survive.  According to the French agency charged with managing the land within the Red Zone, it will take a minimum of 300 years, at the current rate of clean-up, and maybe as long as 700 years, to clear these areas completely.  Which will never happen, surely.  Around thirty French villages in the Meuse, Marne and Aisne districts, and in Lorraine, were never rebuilt (insets above).

Today the Red Zone covers a smaller area than it once did, but many restrictions still exist, and it’s still, quite clearly, best not to go there (some of these images are (c) Olivier Saint Hilaire – I have tried to find a way to get in touch but failed – so, having taken a punt and used a few, I hope Olivier approves.  And doesn’t sue me).

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2 Responses to The Legacy of War – The Red Zone

  1. Sandra says:

    Extraordinary. Did not realise the terrible effects to the land were ongoing. The Red Zone map with the comparison to counties in Britain was a very graphic way to communicate the extent of the devastation in France to the British people. Thanks for sharing that information.

    • Brian McTighe says:

      Exactly what I thought. I knew there was still an ongoing danger of munitions being ploughed up. I had no idea that land is still poisoned and some villages had never been rebuilt.

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