One of the first blogs I ever wrote on this site was about how the legacy of the First World War lives on in some of our street names. The ‘usual suspect’ names prove to be the most popular, with (generally speaking) the names of those who led the Allies to victory trumping battles in terms of popularity (there are no ‘Passchendaele Streets’ for instance – perhaps something to do with the spelling?!). However at least sixteen roads in the UK are named after the Battle of Verdun, which is interesting given the fact that it was not a battle that British or Commonwealth troops were involved in.
I suspect the majority of these (and indeed most other roads) could not be classed as war memorials in themselves. However the ‘Promenade de Verdun’ in Purley is different. Not only is it named after the infamous battle, it features a memorial to the battle and the French troops who lost their lives during the ten months of fighting in the area.
The promenade was the creation of William Webb, a local surveyor who designed the Woodcote Estate. He wanted the Promenade to be a tribute to the French as well as to highlight the friendship between the two nations.
The memorial itself is inscribed “Aux soldats de France mort glorieusement pendant la Grand Guerre” (To the soldiers of France who died gloriously during the Great War). The soil for the trees was brought from near Armentieres, and was reputedly so full of shrapnel and bullets that it had to be sifted several times to prevent souvenir hunters damaging the avenue. The Lombardy poplars that still line the road also came from Verdun.
The road is a cul-de-sac and today the houses along it command multi-million-pound asking prices, so I doubt many people are aware of its historic significance or the memorial. Yet it is a fascinating legacy of the war and I would urge anyone who is in the area to make a detour to see it for themselves.