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For France, 100 Years of World War I Cleanup Still to Come

FILE - A U.S. Army 37-mm gun crew man their position during the World War I Meuse-Argonne Allied offensive in France, Sept. 26, 1918.
For France, 100 Years of World War I Cleanup Still to Come
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In a few weeks, the world will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. But experts in France say it could be another 100 years before France is cleansed from the weapons left behind.

In fields across eastern France, bomb experts continue searching for ammunition and other equipment left from the conflict. Some remain unexploded and dangerous.

The Meuse river runs through Vilosnes-Haraumont, a town near the city of Verdun. The German army placed thousands of shells in the river after the battle of Mort Homme in 1916.

Last week, two divers jumped into the cold waters to tie ropes around many artillery shells buried in the river. Then a large machine carefully lifted the old bombs out of the water and placed them on the grass. In one day, workers removed more than five tons of unexploded shells from the Meuse.

A demining center in Metz, France, says it collects between 45 and 50 tons of bombs a year. The center says there are at least 250 to 300 tons still buried in the nearby rivers and hills of eastern France.

Guy Momper is the bomb clearance expert leading the removal effort. “We need to tidy up the land,” he said. When a shell is found, he said, “we go out and collect it.”


World War I was mostly fought on French and Belgian land. More than 10 million soldiers, including 1.4 million French, died in the war. The soldiers dug trenches; long, narrow spaces in the ground from which they would fight. The war changed the land of France, Germany and Belgium.

It ended on Nov. 11, 1918. But, its effects can still be seen. Old trenches are still in the fields and the ground still has many holes from exploded bombs.

The bombs pulled from the Meuse river have little risk of exploding, but Momper and his team want to be sure there are no accidents. The team places the shells beside the road next to the river, to await their safe removal.

I’m Susan Shand

The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. The editor was Catherine Weaver.

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Words in This Story

tidy v. to make (something) tidy : to make (something) clean and organized