After our trip exploring the Normandy region, in March 2014, to learn more about the World War II we knew we’d like to do a similar trip along the Western Front for WWI history. Little did we know that only a year later we’d have planned that trip and be heading towards the Eurotunnel for another trip through France and Belgium, with a little dip into Luxembourg as a bonus. And what a great trip it was!
Over the coming weeks I’ll be blogging about many of the sites we visited and at the end I’ll provide a copy of our itinerary and some resources to help you plan a similar trip.
But before all that, as I’ve done with our other trips, let me start with a Trip Summary of how we filled our days, along with a sneak peek of some photos from the places I’ll be sharing.
Day 1: March 9, 2015
Up bright and early at 6:00 on Monday morning to take our second trip in as many years through the Eurotunnel Shuttle that would take us back under the English Channel and deposit us in France! In the train we passed the time by throwing around ideas for my upcoming business trip to Europe – Paris, Berlin, Bremen, Bruges- where would we end up? We came up with some ideas for those weekends and before we knew it we were pulling in to the station and needed to get ready to drive off the train and get our day of exploring underway.
On this first day of our trip we visited:
- The Wimereux Communal Cemetery which contains over 2,000 Commonwealth War Graves from WWI including that of Lt.-Col John McCrae who wrote ‘In Flanders Fields‘.
- Notre-Dame-de-Lorette which is the site of the largest French military cemetery in the world with over 40,000 buried here. On the grounds are seven ossuaries, a chapel, the Lantern Tower, and the Remembrance Ring which a memorial to 579,606 soldiers.
- The Canadian National Vimy Memorial that is situated in a battlefield with many areas that are off limits due to explosives that haven’t been detonated yet. This is one of only two National Historic Sites of Canada that is outside of Canada.
- A quick stop at Commonwealth Canadian Cemetery No.2 that was close to the Vimy Memorial. That evening I posted a photo of it on Instagram and one of the groundskeepers saw themselves in my photo!
- The town of Arras where we climbed up the belfry (a UNESCO site!) for a view of the town below, and then headed down underground for a tour of the caves under the city streets called Les Boves.
Accommodations: Airbnb one bed studio apartment in Arras, France for one night.
Read More: Wimereux Communal Cemetery: The Final Resting Place of Lt.-Col. John McCrae, Notre Dame de Lorette: Largest French Military Museum in the World, Vimy Ridge Memorial and Canadian War Cemetery, and Up in the Belfry of Arras and Down in Les Boves.
Day 2: March 10, 2015
After I saved L in the middle of the night from one of the little mirrors that our Airbnb host had glued to the ceiling (seriously I sleep way too light if I can hear glue coming off a ceiling while asleep), we awoke about 8:00 a little tired but ready to hit the road for more exploring.
On our second day we visited:
- Zivy Crater which is a mine crater used by the Canadian Corps to bury soldiers from the Vimy battlefield.
- Wellington Quarry which is a series of tunnels dug by the New Zealand Tunneling Company to convey troops to the front, especially for the Battle of Arras.
- Beaumont Hamel memorial to the Dominion of Newfoundland soldiers killed during WWI. This is the second of two National Historic Sites of Canada that is not located in Canada.
- Thiepval Memorial, which is a Memorial to the Mission of the Somme, that bears the names of more than 72,000 soldiers of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme with no known grave.
- The Lochnager Crater which is ‘the largest crater ever made by man in anger’ and is now a memorial to those who suffered in the Great War.
- Delville Wood, the South Africa National Memorial, is the only memorial dedicated to the participation of South African forces during WWI on the Western Front.
- Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims, a beautiful 13th century Gothic cathedral that is also a UNESCO site.
Accommodations: Airbnb two bedroom apartment in Reims, France
Day 3: March 11, 2015
On our third day we awoke to sunshine and the excitement that we’d be visiting and spending the night in a new country- Luxembourg! But before we we were to arrive in Luxembourg we had lots of stops planned on our itinerary.
We visited the following:
- Butte de Vaquois which included a huge crater from an explosion and several sets of trenches that were on the German side of the line, along with a monument on the French side of the line. They were really close!
- A quick stop at quite possibly the ugliest memorial I’ve ever seen- Mort Homme. It reminded me of Voldemort from Harry Potter.
- The Ossuary of Douaumont which contains the remains for 130,000 French and German soldiers that fought during WWI. Across the street is the National Necropolis of Douaumont which is the resting place of more than 15,000 soldiers.
- Souville Fort, which was the last line of fortifications in front of Verdun, and the Fort of Douaumont and Fort of Vaux, both of which are open to the public to explore.
- The destroyed village of Fleury-devant-Douaumont which in 1913 was the home to 422 but in 1916 was turned into a pile of rubble.
- The streets and town squares of Luxembourg City where we just wandered and took in the palace, monuments, and casemates.
Accommodations: Hotel Parc Plaza in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Day 4: March 12, 2015
After sleeping in a little on this morning we walked in to the town for a delicious breakfast of ham and cheese crepes before out first stop of the day.
On our fourth day we visited:
- The Casemates du Bock (another UNESCO site!) which is part of the old quarters and fortifications of Luxembourg City.
- A site that L had found to surprise me with- a monument to the last Canadian soldier to be killed on the Western Front in WWI.
- St. Symphorien cemetery that was established by the German Army during WWI as the resting place for British and German soldiers killed at the Battle of Mons. It is now under the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
- On to Belgium with stops at Berks Cemetery, Messine Ridge, and Bayernwald Trenches where Hitler served as a runner while still a young soldier.
- Ypres, Belgium to wander along the ramparts and through the town, and then attend the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate.
Accommodations: B&B de Potyze in Ypres, Belgium (link is to my review)
Day 5: March 13, 2015
After an absolutely delicious homemade breakfast at B&B De Potyze we said goodbye to our wonderful hosts and headed out for our last day along the Western Front.
On our fifth day we visited:
- Yser Tower and Gate of Peace that are monuments to the Belgian soldiers killed on the Yser Front during WWI. The tower also symbolises the demand for Nooit meer Oorlog (No More War).
- The Trench of Death, so named due to its proximity to a German bunker (only 50 metres away) so it was under almost constant fire.
- Brooding Soldier memorial that marks the battlefield where 18,000 Canadians withstood the first German gas attacks in April 1915.
- Polygon Wood Cemetery and the Buttes New British Cemetery (New Zealand) Memorial that contains many soldiers from the New Zealand forces who fought in this area, and commemorates those with no known grave.
- Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 and the Hooge Crater Museum– both museums we saw on our first visit to Belgium and knew we wanted to return to.
- The town of Poperinge for visits to the Talbot House, which was a club that offered rest and recreation to soldiers, and today is a little museum. We also paid a visit to the beautiful St. Bertinus Church that is the oldest church in Poperinge.
- Our last stop on our trip- Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery which is the 2nd larges cemetery for Commonwealth forces in Belgium and includes a non World War burial, as well as 35 graves for workers of the Chinese Labour Corps .
What an amazing five days of adventures and history. It may seem like we packed a lot in, and I guess we did, but with careful planning beforehand we were able to lay everything out in order to avoid back tracking etc. that is just a time waster. Our days usually started by 9:00 am and we’d be done driving and exploring by 5:30-6:00 each evening. This left us plenty of time in the evenings for dinner, a game of cards, and to just relax.
As much as I love sharing the details of our trips in the hope of inspiring others to travel too, I also can’t wait to relive the memories from all the places we visited. And do I ever have memories- like ELEVEN typed pages of notes from this trip! I don’t always take such notes on a trip but after looking back on these from a trip we took almost a year ago I’m so glad I have them. There are several little details and moments I know I would have forgotten if I didn’t have these notes- like the fact that we decided ‘Break My Stride’ by Matthew Wilder was going to be our trip theme song while we watched Friends at our Airbnb apartment in Reims. What?? Break my stride? Really? Actually it is quite catchy….Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride, nobody gonna slow me down…
And now nothing is going to break my stride as I jump into the memories of our trip with our first stop, Wimereux Communal Cemetery, coming up as the next post from this trip.
Have you ever taken such a trip to visit the sites on the Western Front? If so, what are some of your favourite places and memories of that trip?