World War 1 was characterised by death and misery along the Western Front, a stretch of land that covered around 400 miles of France and Belgium. Soldiers fought one another in mud-filled trenches, greatly suffering from the poor conditions.
Nowadays, this part of Europe has been transformed into a number of thriving towns and villages that live at peace with one another, no doubt thanks to the efforts of our valiant fighters. However, what took place here during the First World War has not and will not be forgotten.
The former Western Front is now the home of numerous moving and evocative memorials, which allow the soldiers that gave their lives for freedom to be crystallised in the annals of time.
Those with an interest in history or who would like to learn more about family members involved in the war often choose to visit WW1 sites in France and Belgium, where there are various memorials. While this is certainly a sombre and sobering experience, it can help travellers find peace regarding what happened or even enlighten them as to the fate of their loved ones. Of all the WW1 sites, these are some of the most popular.
This touching memorial is dedicated to the British and South African troops that were reported missing in the Somme. Roughly 72,000 individuals are commemorated by this monument, the average age of who was roughly 25 years old. To this day, the remains of many of the soldiers lost in the Somme have still not been recovered and of those that have been found, the majority of the remains have not been identified.
The magnificent arch towering over the graves at the Thiepval Memorial (Photo: cheviotbob, Flickr)
Vimy Ridge Memorial
One of France’s most striking memorials and undoubtedly the most impressive of Canada’s overseas tributes, the Vimy Ridge site is a truly humbling place. The memorial pays homage to the Canadian troops that gave their lives during the battle of Vimy Ridge. Although the battle was a success for the Canadian soldiers, the death toll was heavy. Today, the monument sits proudly on top of a hill, looking out over the Douai Plain, and is inscribed with over 11,000 names of Canadian soldiers deemed "missing, presumed dead."
The striking WWI memorial at Vimy Ridge (Photo: pxhere)
The SOMME American Cemetery
Just outside of the village of Bony is the beautiful yet haunting Somme American Cemetery, the burial ground of almost 2,000 American soldiers. On site there is a chapel, which boasts an elaborate American eagle and which contains the names of over 300 missing troops. The memorial is immaculately maintained and the fields of white crosses are a tasteful tribute to America’s sacrifice.
(Photo: Gary Dee, Wikimedia Commons)
The Verdun Memorial takes the form of a museum and recounts in detail what happened during the Battle of Verdun. Fought between French and German troops, the battle lasted around ten months and left 700,000 victims in its wake, 305,000 of which were fatalities. Today, the museum teaches visitors what took place on the battlefield and is careful to look at the battle as Franco-German rather than only showing what happened from a French perspective.
The beautiful Verdun Memorial (Photo: Pixabay)
The Menin Gate, also known as the Ypres Memorial, is situated in Belgium and is one of the most important war memorials in the country and indeed the world. The colossal arch bears the names of around 54,000 soldiers who died prior to August 16th 1917 and were not officially buried. It is a poignant tribute to the 200,000 commonwealth servicemen that were slaughtered in the Ypres Salient.
The Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium (Photo: Johan Bakker)
Visiting one of the WW1 memorial sites in France or Belgium is an experience that will stay with you forever, regardless of your connection with any of the troops. If you would like to include a visit to one of these memorials during your vacation, be sure to let us know and we can weave it into your itinerary.