Even today French locals , other Europeans and Americans find themselves drawn to the Meuse-Argonne region of France. Once drawn there, many return time and again; often working on a multi-year research or preservation project. In this irregular interview series, the webmaster hopes to introduce readers to some of these individuals and their labors of love.
1) What are your name, nationality and occupation?
Christina Holstein, British, former translator based in Luxembourg with a lifetime interest in military history which has recently concentrated on the Meuse-Argonne, Verdun and the St. Mihiel Salient. I’ve published three books on the Battle of Verdun with a fourth in preparation.
2) Which languages do you speak, and how fluently do you speak them?
In addition to English I speak fluent French and Danish but not very fluent German.
3) When was your first visit to the Meuse-Argonne?
4) When did you really find yourself drawn to the Meuse-Argonne?
After my first visit. There are still so many remains of the war to be seen and the area is still largely as it was one hundred years ago. That’s unusual and fascinating.
5) What is your primary interest in the region?
Following the battle on the ground, i.e. walking in the footsteps of the various units which fought there and visiting the sites I read about.
6) Approximately how many times and/or how often do you visit the Meuse-Argonne?
Three or four times each year
7) What do you do when you visit?
I visit the sites I’ve been reading about, plus the local museums, particularly if there are new ones. I also visit the graves of the men I have been reading about, French, German and American.
8) What research or preservation projects are you working on currently?
I’m currently researching the fighting on the Left Bank of the River Meuse during the Battle of Verdun 1916. This involves the fighting for the two hills known as the Mort-Homme and Cote 304.
9) What research or preservation projects have you completed in the past?
All my recent projects have concerned the Battle of Verdun. I have published books about Fort Douaumont and Fort Vaux, both of which played major parts in that battle. I also published Walking Verdun, which is a series of ten hikes on the battlefield taking visitors to places they would not normally see. [Webmaster’s note: “Fort Douaumont” is part of Pen & Sword’s Battleground Europe Series; and “Fort Vaux” and “Walking Verdun” are both part of Pen & Sword’s Battleground Verdun Series.]
10) What is your favorite spot in the Meuse-Argonne, and why?
I love the silence in the Argonne Forest. The Forestière cemetery (French–East of Lachalade) is very beautiful and also unusual in having flowers on every grave. I think the old German pioneer cemetery on the road (D38) from Varennes to Four de Paris must be my favorite spot.
11) History aside, what is your favorite thing to do in the Meuse-Argonne?
That’s difficult because every visit is history-related but I like the food too, and seeing friends, a good glass of dry white wine and watching buzzards like tiny dots high up in the blue sky.
12) Schedule permitting, would you consider being a tour guide for individuals or groups traveling to the sector?
13) How can readers contact you for assistance or for more details?
By email at: [email protected]
14) Any other comments?
No, not really, except to say that the Meuse-Argonne hasn’t really changed much and visitors should not expect ultra-modern facilities. Roads are still fairly narrow and winding, hotels are small and not everyone speaks English. However, everyone is friendly and helpful, the food is great and the scenery is beautiful! So what are you waiting for?