Last week we remembered D-Day and the troops who risked their lives to liberate France from German occupation . The D-Day beaches in Normandy France are a huge tourist draw but it seems as if time has forgotten those soldiers who lost their lives during World War I.
There are not many sights left in Europe that remind us of the First World War but in Eastern France travelers can learn about the war and remember those who gave their lives during heated battles taking place from 1914 to 1918.
Known as the “Western Front” this region is full of beautiful rivers, Gothic cathedrals and picturesque villages but it is also dotted with grim reminders of the devastation that took place here during World War I.
Besides the craters and trenches that are still visible, the area is home to many cemeteries, museums and memorials that will help you appreciate the extent of battles that took place in the area.
Some of the fiercest fighting occurred near Verdun and the Somme Region of France and today there are many museums and memorials honoring those that served.
The Battle of Verdun lasted 300 days and left 300,000 dead. The Memorial de Verdun was opened in 1967 to remember French and German soldiers as well as civilian citizens lost during the siege. The museum displays military armaments, vehicles, uniforms and equipment and is built on the site of Fleury, a village that was wiped out during fighting.
Also in the area are Fort Douaumont, which was a strategic command post and gives a real sense of the conditions the soldiers endured, and Fort Vaux which includes a memorial to the carrier pigeons used during the war.
The French National Cemetery commemorates the 130,000 unknown French and German soldiers killed at Verdun while the Douaumont Ossuary holds the bones of these unknown soldiers. This moving location will definitely leave you thinking about the war that left so many dead or wounded. Climbing the bell tower overlooking the cemetery with its rows of white crosses or visiting the Trench of Bayonets, where an entire company was buried alive, brings home the horrors of war.
The Somme region was the site of one of the bloodiest battles on the Western Front. Over 620,000 French and British soldiers died here along with over 600,000 German soldiers. The remains of the dead were not transported back to their countries which is why the area has 280 plus graveyards and memorials.
The Thiepval Memorial honors the missing and is a beautiful red brick arched structure. This is “the largest British battle memorial in the world” and the names of 72,000 missing soldiers are engraved on the walls. Occasionally, the remains of a soldier are found in one of the former battlefields. If the remains are somehow identified, the name is then removed from the list of the missing and the soldier is given a full military burial.
Peronne is a lovely French town very near many of the battle sites in the Somme. It is also home to the Museum of the Great War. Located in a castle, this museum strives to show the common suffering of not only the soldiers but the impact war has on the citizens.
This portion of France is a must see to any history and/or war enthusiast. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of World War I and the region will host many ceremonies and events commemorating those that served.
Do you visit battle sites while traveling?