The Somme: WW1 Battlefields

Monday 27 April to Thursday 30 April 2015

travellingross rating = 10/10

I have been to Gallipoli. To the D-Day landing beaches of Normandy. To many war memorials in Australia. Visiting the Somme western front World War 1 battlefields has been on my list for a while and to visit soon after the ANZAC Day centenary was special. This region is town after beautiful town of stories filled with pain, destruction, loss and recovery.

We left Reims and headed towards the city of Amiens stopping at Peronne to tour the museum. This was the first town of many that we saw Australian flags flying and other Aussie symbols – there is a strong sense of gratitude and after spending time here I learned more about how the Australian soldiers were crucial in many battles to push back the German front. Our first memorial was Le Hamel which was a bit challenging to find especially considering it is relatively new, but included very interesting displays. After one night in Amiens, we continued north stopping at Villers-Bretonneux and then crossed into Belgium staying in a very modern 4 storey townhouse (stairs, so many stairs) in Ypres, which would be our platform for the next 3 nights exploring the battlefields and memorials. Highlights were:

  • Adelaide cemetery to see the grave site where the remains of the Australian Unknown Soldier were exhumed and taken to the national memorial in Canberra.
  • Villers-Bretonneux: including the school & museum funded by Victorian school children and the main Australian memorial in the Somme. The latter is out in the fields on a slight hill that was the centre of a key battle to save the town and push back the enemy. Hard to fathom how many died here, and the concept of trench warfare over such a long front. Reading the tombstones and small crosses placed by school children recently was very sad.
  • The British memorial – the largest outside of the UK. Walking closer to it, you realise the white panels are filled with lists upon lists of names. Only a few gravestones. Most of the dead were not recovered to be buried but lay beneath your feet or in the farmers paddocks. Everything looks so peaceful and beautiful today.
  • Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres. Seemingly endless rooms with artefacts, re-enactments and shocking stories of the chemical gases used, including photos of victims or survivors with terrible injuries. Makes you realise it is not just about those who died, but the ones who survived who probably wished they didn’t.
  • Menin Gate Last Post. This is done every night at 8pm. As we power walked to get there, I had a bet with Mum that we wouldn’t be late and I couldn’t imagine more than 15 people would be there. I was wrong. It was packed.
  • Memorial Museum Passchendaele – seemingly small place but many levels and re-creation of what the trenches would have been like.
  • Talbot House, Poperinge – a place where select soldiers could escape the frontline for a short stay. The House is well preserved with interesting photos and you can imagine the haven this would have been.