Vincent Jacquot is a guide and an expert on World War I history in the department of the Meuse. Although the North and Somme regions of France saw soldiers from many different nationalities fight there, the battles around Verdun involved mostly French and American troops for the allied forces.
Emilie and I had the pleasure of spending the day with Vincent during our visit in the Verdun region. It was an extremely interesting, moving and also fun time for both of us.
We sat down with him to learn more about what he does, why he loves it, and how important it is to remember these battles that are slowly fading.
Interview of our World War Private Guide
- How did you prepare yourself for becoming a guide?
I think I've been preparing for this since I was born .... (laughs). Born near Verdun, between the most famous battlefield of the First World War and the Maginot Line, I grew up with this Great History that I meet at every step here. I logically studied history at university. Not wishing to become a teacher, I oriented my professional life towards tourism and then became a guide, with a solid knowledge of the history and heritage of Eastern France and also an expertise on World War Tours.
- What do enjoy most about being a guide?
I am lucky to work in a region that is less touristic than others in France. I know other guides who speak into microphones and can't even see the faces of their visitors because of the crowds on the site. This is not my vision nor my way of life. I can thus welcome visitors as being privileged with a real personal exchange. Like cousins from America visiting France...
- The Battle of Verdun was devastating to a whole generation in France. With time unfortunately, the collective memory and knowledge of this period is lessened. What is your experience when you bring your travelers back to this time, and what surprises you the most, or gives you the most satisfaction, after a tour?
Visitors to these very special sites are usually very moved. The battlefields, here or elsewhere, are places of human tragedy and the one of Verdun is very impressive. Many families in Europe and America were in fact impacted by the First World War: encounters, marriages, deaths, widows and orphans who created their own history after this. All of this still exists in family memories - it is enough to question a little the visitors who sometimes make the connection after their visit here.
The American War sites near Verdun
- For the American sites in Argonne or south of Verdun such as the Saint Mihiel Salient and Montsec, what surprises the visitors the most?
The First World War is largely forgotten by Americans, who remember more the Second War or Vietnam. It is somewhat normal, for them, as it lasted only 18 months and was not the social and demographic trauma known in Europe. But what they discover is that the modern American army was created and formed here and some units formed their legend in France in 1918. The Battle of Saint-Mihiel, for example, was the first major engagement of the U.S. Army outside of American territory. The Battle of Argonne was the major battle that the Dough Boys fought in Europe. Visitors also discover that the main American cemetery in Europe is not in Normandy, but in Romagne near Verdun.
Travelers finding out about their ancestors who fought in Europe
- Do you often have requests for following the footsteps of the ancestors of your visitors, and how do you go about preparing?
Indeed, I sometimes receive requests from visitors who wish to find the story of a member of their family who fought in Lorraine during the First World War and sometimes during the Second. For that, it is necessary that the visitors communicate to me in advance some elements of information like the military unit (division or regiment). Afterwards, the research is a historian's job, but I am one and I love it. The knowledge of the territory is very useful.
- What other interesting visits and tours are there to do in the area with you as guide?
The North East of France is truly fascinating because it is a territory with a very open geography and a place of exchange of several cultures, Latin and Germanic. From Verdun, the historical and cultural cities of Reims, Metz and Nancy are only one hour away. Alsace is a 2hr drive. Beautiful tours and discoveries can be made there.
It is also very easy to cross borders here: Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg are very close, you can have fun being in 3 or 4 countries in one single day . . .
- We highly recommend having a private guide like Vincent for visiting the battle sites. History comes alive, and you will have a memorable time. If you would like to visit Verdun and its region, contact us to help you plan.