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 encounter with every step I take here. Naturally, I studied history at university. I didn't want to become a teacher, so 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 the World Wars, ideal for 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. The visitors I welcome can enjoy a real one-to-one exchange with me as their tour guide - like cousins from America visiting France...
- The Battle of Verdun was devastating for a whole generation in France. With time, unfortunately, the collective memory and knowledge of this period has faded. 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. Battlefields, here or elsewhere, are places of human tragedy and the one in Verdun is very poignant. Many families in Europe and America were impacted by the First World War. The huge number of deaths left many widows and orphans, who had to create their own futures after this. All of this still remains in family memories - many visitors reestablish this connection after their visit here.
The American War sites near Verdun
- What surprises visitors most when they visit the American sites in Argonne or south of Verdun, such as the Saint Mihiel Salient and Montsec?
The First World War has largely been forgotten by Americans, who tend to remember more the Second World War or Vietnam. This is not surprising, as the First World War lasted only 18 months for the Americans, and did not result in the same social and demographic trauma that it did in Europe. But what they discover is that the modern American army was created and formed here, and some units became legends in France in 1918. The Battle of Saint-Mihiel, for example, was the U.S. Army's first major military engagement outside of American territory. The Battle of Argonne was the biggest battle that the Dough Boys fought in Europe. Visitors also discover that the biggest American cemetery in Europe is not in Normandy, but in fact is in Romagne near Verdun.
Travelers finding out about their ancestors who fought in Europe
- Do you often have requests from people wanting to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors who fought in France, and how do you go about preparing?
Indeed, I sometimes receive requests from visitors wanting to find out the story of a family member who fought in Lorraine during the First World War and sometimes during the Second World War. In order to do this, visitors need to send me some information in advance, like the military unit (division or regiment). Then, as a historian, I carry out the research, which I love doing. Knowledge of the area is very useful.
- What other interesting visits and tours are there to do in the area with you as a guide?
Northeastern France is truly fascinating because it is an area with a very open geography and a place where several cultures meet, Latin and Germanic. We can visit the historical and cultural cities of Reims, Metz and Nancy, which are only one hour away from Verdun. Alsace is a 2-hour drive. You can do some really beautiful tours and learn so much there.
It is also very easy to cross borders here: Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg are very close, you can have fun and visit 3 or 4 countries in a 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.