November 11, 2009 - 91st Anniversary of the end of the World War I - key sites to visit
Historial de la Grande Guerre museum
The Historial de la Grande Guerre museum at Péronne, in French Flanders, is one of the best places to start. The Le Corbusier inspired structure is built into the walls of the medieval castle on the Battle of the Somme (1916-1918) front line. The museum sets out to show the impact of war beyond the battles. It recounts the events leading to the declaration of war. Exhibits are presented chronologically, covering military and civilian issues and attitudes, and drawing equally from British, French and German sources (all information is in the 3 languages).
The Historial de la Grande Guerre (or Museum of the Great War) is open daily from 10am to 6pm; closed mid-Dec. to mid-Jan.
- You can find out more on their website (in French only): www.historial.org
- Getting there: Péronne is just over one and a half hours drive from Dunkirk, mainly on motorway (A26 à A1); 160km.
The Armistice Clearing
Peace was declared in 1918 at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in a railway carriage in a clearing deep in the ancient forest of Compiègne. The carriage or, rather, a contemporary sister carriage (Hitler had the original destroyed) is now the Armistice Museum in the very same spot. It has a treasure of sepia photographs from the battlefields of WW1 which you can view. Who knows, you might even come across a photo of a local regiment. More information on the Armistice Clearing here.
- Getting there: Rethondes near Compiègne is about two hours drive from Dunkirk, mainly on motorway (A26 à A1); 218km.
Other key sites
- Walk through a trench to see just how shallow and cramped it was, and how close to the enemy lines. You can do so at the Beaumont Hamel / Newfoundland Memorial and at Sanctuary Wood (near Ypres in Belgian Flanders).
- See Passchendaele and Verdun; drive or walk along the Chemin des Dames and see its Caverne du Dragon (dragon’s cave) museum on a site where soldiers sought refuge among the crags and caves of the quarried hillside.
- Don’t miss the British Memorials to the dead and missing soldiers, built by Lutyens, at Thiepval (find out more on the Commonwealth War Graves Commision's website); and the Soissons Memorial to the Missing.
- See the Lochnagar mine crater at La Boisselle which signaled the start of the Battle of the Somme. You can download a map of the main Battle of the Somme sites here.
- Learn about the Christmas Truce at Ploegsteert, 12.5km south of Ieper (Ypres) in Belgium, Flanders, just 75km from Dunkirk (three quarters of an hour’s drive)
- Visit the grave of Wilfred Owen, perhaps the best of the English War Poets, at Ors, and the grave of Rudyard Kipling’s son at Armentières and the Memorial at nearby Loos.
- Create your own itinerary following the many towns, villages and rural sites depicted in Sebastian Faulkes "Bird Song". Many sites are within walking distance of each other, so park your car and set off on your own discovery historical walk. If you’ve not yet done so, now’s the time to read this fascinating novel.