Visiting WWI sites?

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by sprog, Jan 3, 2012.

  1. sprog

    sprog Member

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    Very strange question here, and not my usual commentary. As this is a site for military folks, I'd thought I'd give it a try.

    Anyway......

    This summer, the wife and I are going to France for two weeks. We'll be on a tour for most of that time, but we have a day or two pre and post tour to do our own thing.

    I'm very interested in First World War battlefields, especially those which still have trench residuals in the countryside. I was wondering if anyone had any experience touring Western Front sites. I'm looking at Ypres (Belgium) and the area around Amiens (Thiepval, Beaumont Hamel, and other 1916 Somme sites).

    So, has anyone ever visted these places? Have you used a tour? Can you see a good bit in say four or five hours?

    I know it's a shot in the dark, and way off-topic from the general purpose of the forum. It's military-related, though:thumb:
     
  2. Aglahad

    Aglahad Member

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    I have. Do you plan on using public transportation or getting your own car? A lot of the sites are in areas along the French/German border and most public transportation just fly by battle scenes to stop in larger cities such as Amiens, Lille and Calais.

    In particular I enjoyed Vimy Ridge, Somme and the Marne. If I remember correctly, the Somme had a lot of residual battle "wear" left over that was in plain sight (trench lines, reused barbed wire etc). Keep in mind that Europe and time has done a lot to wipe the era of two world wars away from memory so there isn't always a lot to see (mostly memorials and cemeteries). However, by bringing a battle map and zeroing in your location it could be interesting to see exactly where troop positions and lines were. Good luck.
     
  3. sprog

    sprog Member

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    I don't have a ton of time, so was thinking about doing like a half-day guided tour (using their transportation).

    I'm not sure that'll work out, so I could rent a car. I've done it before in France when I was there last time.

    Especially with the Somme sights, it doesn't look easy unless you have private transportation. Ypres looks like it could be easier, and they have a big museum which will be finished (under renovation now) by the time we get there.

    Did you do Thiepval and/or Ulster at the Somme?

    I think France embraces the history fairly well. When I was in Lyon, I went to a Resistance museum and a Holocaust memorial for WWII. Les Invalides in Paris will lead you to believe that DeGaulle won WWII by himself, but at least they recognize the war....;o). England has great museums with the Imperial War and the Cabinet War Rooms.

    I do agree with your general sentiment, though. Especially with WWII. You go to Germany now and it's like "Adolf who?....no one here by that name, sorry."
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2012
  4. Aglahad

    Aglahad Member

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    Thiepval? I did briefly, just enough to see the memorial. It's rather close to Amiens (public transpo wise).

    Its kind of a shot in the dark regarding tours. I didn't do a tour and used public transportation which really gimped how much I could see. The guided tours probably vary in quality and I have no clue what language or how long most of them are. I recognized most of the sites from books I have read and a menial grasp of the French language.

    With little time the museums, big cemeteries and memories are your best bet. To be honest, exploring WWI battle fields could take a few days if not a week or more with private transpo to fully grasp the size and depth of the Great War. Since time is short I would stick to traveling around Amiens and hit up that Ypres museum via public transportation.

    I really don't like renting cars in Europe but that's just me.

    Don't get me wrong there are A LOT of memorials and museums documenting the world wars in Europe. However, when it comes to actual battle sites it seems that the actual heavy fighting areas were not preserved because of the great loss of life incurred and memories associated with many of the places (fade away into memory). That was just based off of my observations.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2012
  5. flieger83

    flieger83 Super Moderator Moderator

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    It's not exactly in your area...but if you can spare the trip...

    Verdun.

    And plan on a lengthy stay. It's just...its hard to describe; you just aren't prepared for the wholesale carnage that occurred there. You can read about it, see the old grainy videos, etc., but until you see the Douaumont Ossuary and realize that 130,000 soldiers are interred JUST THERE...and then see the cemeteries...and the remains of the forts, the damage, the fact that the modern landscape is still crossed by trench remnants, and pockmarked by craters...

    Steve
    USAFA ALO
    USAFA '83
     
  6. sprog

    sprog Member

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    Verdun is a bit out of the way for where we are heading. A shame, as the battle sites there are highly recommended. Sounds like it was very moving for you.

    The Somme has hard to comprehend numbers, too. Of all the British soldiers who went over the top on July 1, 1916, almost 20,000 were killed on that single day (really, within a matter of hours). The leadership made no efforts to try and alter their battle plan when it became apparent that the artillery bombardment of the German trenches had failed. They just sent wave after wave at walking pace into no man's land to get mowed down. A slaughter. Because a lot of the troops were organized into "Pals Battalions," several towns in England lost all of their young men in a few hours.

    One of the biggest disasters in military leadership that I can think of in modern history. I think SA and ROTC classes should examine the actions of higher command elements at the Somme as a classic example of what NOT to do.

    I would like to get a chance to visit the places where such terrible sacrifices were made. WW1 has mostly slipped from the collective memory, but it's always been fascinating to me.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2012
  7. flieger83

    flieger83 Super Moderator Moderator

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    It was a drizzly, dreary, low-cloud, grey-sky January day...and every now and then there was a wisp of ground fog around parts of the battlefields...through the cemeteries, in the trees...in shell holes...

    It was surreal.

    And it really brought home just how devastating this battle was.

    And I agree with your re; Somme...I've been there as well. It's very hard to explain to people the difference between then and now. Today...we lose 5-8 soldiers/marines/airmen/sailors in a day...it's horrifying (and I mean that, its not a joke, a put down, etc) to all of us. And yet when you visit a place like that and learn that 20,000 died in one day...and the next day 8,000...and that went on and on.

    That men willingly charged the guns, knowing that...

    Yeah...it was very moving. The fog appeared like the smoke you see on the WWI newsreels...I half expected to see soldiers appearing out of the mists.

    Steve
    USAFA ALO
    USAFA '83
     
  8. sprog

    sprog Member

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    The really sad consideration was that if you didn't charge the machine guns, even if you were in the midst of a psychiatric break-down (and it's hard to imagine that the ones who didn't charge were the crazy ones...paging Joseph Heller), you faced a firing squad.

    No good options.

    I'm going to paraphrase something that I saw once on a pamphlet that was given to British soldiers on the way to the trenches. It went something like this:

    "When you go to France, you will either be in a front area or a rear area. If you are in a rear area, you need not worry. If you are in a front area, you will either be in a safe area or a dangerous area. If you are in a safe area, you need not worry. If you are in a dangerous area, you will either be healthy or injured. If you are healthy, you need not worry. If you are injured, it will either be minor or serious. If it is minor, you need not worry. If you have a serious injury, you will either recover or die. If you recover, you need not worry. If you die, you cannot worry. God Save the King."

    Isn't that something? That was seriously meant to help morale.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2012

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