- Title: A century after WW1, the search for a French soldier's identity
- Date: 7th November 2018
- Summary: VERDUN, FRANCE (NOVEMBER 5, 2018) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (French) FORENSIC DOCTOR, BRUNO FREMONT, SAYING: "The problem with DNA is that we would have to compare the DNA of this soldier with that of all the families in the whole of France -- because almost all the French regiments fought at Verdun -- but also with all those in North Africa: Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Mali... And then also with the whole of Germany because a combatant who fell in that area could have belonged to any one of those nationalities." FORENSIC DOCTOR HOLDING SKULL X-RAY SHOWING FEET STILL INSIDE BOOTS VARIOUS OF OBJECTS FOUND AT BATTLE OF VERDUN SITE INCLUDING HELMET, BOOTS, BONES, PICKAXE AND PIECES OF WOOD CROSS ON GRAVE OF UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER READING (French): "UNIDENTIFIED FRENCH SOLDIER" GRAVES OF UNIDENTIFIED FRENCH SOLDIERS AT TRENCH OF BAYONETS MEMORIAL VARIOUS OF WOODEN STATUES OF FRENCH SOLDIER SUNSET ON SITE OF BATTLE OF VERDUN
- Embargoed: 21st November 2018 12:05
- Keywords: DNA identification France World War One armistice WW1 centenary commemoration unknown soldiers Battle of Verdun
- Location: VERDUN AND UNKNOWN LOCATIONS, FRANCE
- City: VERDUN AND UNKNOWN LOCATIONS, FRANCE
- Country: France
- Topics: Conflicts/War/Peace
- Reuters ID: LVA00395J1YKN
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: In a hospital mortuary in eastern France, the forensic doctor Bruno Fremont examines a gaping hole in the skull of a soldier killed by shrapnel a century ago, at the Battle of Verdun during World War One.
Laid out on a white sheet are the combatant's near-complete skeleton, many of the bones blackened, and his leather boots, the laces tied tight. What's missing is the soldier's ID tag.
For months, Fremont has searched for clues as to the identity of the soldier, whose remains were found in March by workmen resurfacing a road. He has all but lost hope. A DNA test is useless without a known relative to compare against.
As the world marks a century since the end of the war, the tumult it caused continues to affect families whose relatives never returned from the battlefields.
The Battle of Verdun, fought between French and German troops for much of 1916, was the longest and among the deadliest of World War One. Altogether, almost 300,000 soldiers were killed. Even now the ground continues to give up the fallen.
On Tuesday (November 6), President Emmanuel Macron Macron lit a flame at the Douaumont Ossuary, a memorial containing the remains of soldiers who died at Verdun and where Fremont's skeleton will be interred if it cannot be identified.
Verdun did not spare Fremont's family. His grandfather was wounded in the fighting. As a child he would scour the forests that now cover the battlefield and collect bullet casings and soldiers' helmets.
Nowadays, when remains are found, Fremont is tasked by the local prosecutor with ascertaining if the bones are human and whether they date from the war. After all, he says, a serial killer called "the Ogre of the Ardennes" once lived in Verdun.
The bodies of 80,000 soldiers were never recovered from Verdun. They lie buried in an area known as the "red zone". More often than not, Fremont said, it is only fragments of bone that are found, from bodies ripped apart by shells.
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