Europe’s Landscape Is Still Scarred by World War I

Photographs of the abandoned battlefields reveal the trenches’ scars still run deep

On the Chemin des Dames, German soldiers took refuge in a former limestone quarry, which they called the Dragon’s Cavern. Michael St. Maur Sheil
Ten thousand men were killed within seconds when the British exploded 19 mines under German lines during the Battle of Messines in Belgium. Michael St. Maur Sheil
Nearly 70 feet deep, the Lochnagar Crater was formed after an explosive-packed mine was detonated during the Battle of the Somme. Michael St. Maur Sheil
The first large battle fought by American soldiers in World War I took place in Belleau Wood. 10,000 soldiers were lost, killed or injured. Michael St. Maur Sheil
The tiny village of Butte de Vaquois once stood on a hilltop, and was destroyed after three years of furious mining blew away its summit. Michael St. Maur Sheil
The remains of Sedd el Bahr Kale, an ancient castle, as seen from V Beach, where the Battle of Gallipoli was fought in Turkey. Michael St. Maur Sheil
100 years after the Battle of Verdun, its land—once a quiet stretch of French farmland—remains scarred from explosions. Michael St. Maur Sheil
Between 1914-15, Germany defeated the Russian Army in two separate battles fought in the Masurian Lakes region in East Prussia. Michael St. Maur Sheil
A series of 12 bloody battles were fought between Austro-Hungrarian and Italian troops along the Isonzo River in Italy. Michael St. Maur Sheil
Michael St. Maur Sheil

Even today, a century after the start of the Great War, the countryside still bears scars. In this image by Irish landscape photographer Michael St. Maur Sheil at the site of the Battle of the Somme, in northern France, you can trace grass-covered trenches and pockmarks from exploded bombshells. More than a million men were wounded or killed in the battle, the first major British offensive of the war. “The Germans had been sitting in a deep dugout excavated into the chalk rock,” Sheil says. “British soldiers advancing across the flat landscape were an easy target.” His exhibition, “Fields of Battle—Lands of Peace,” now on display in Paris along the wrought-iron fence of Luxembourg Gardens and later touring the United Kingdom, includes 79 contemporary photographs of World War I battlefields—the artist’s attempt to document the enduring legacy of the war on the landscape.

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