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Experiencing the Centenary
Discovering the Centenary
Understanding the Centenary
France > Remembrance tourism in the Somme département

Remembrance tourism in the Somme département

Image locale (image propre et limitée à l'article, invisible en médiathèque)
Le Circuit du Souvenir de la Somme
© CDT Somme

The Somme département was deeply affected by the fighting of the First World War: the invasion and the “race to the sea”  from August to September 1914, the battle of the Somme from July to November 1916 and the battles of Picardy from March to September 1918. In 1916, the Somme became a vast global battlefield, where three million soldiers, representing twenty or so different nationalities, fought it out along a front running some 45 kilometres. Today the, the Circuit du Souvenir (Remembrance Route), which links the emblematic towns of Péronne and Albert, will take you to the sites where this international war was fought, through the remains of the fighting, the cemeteries and memorials which pay tribute to the memory of all the soldiers of the First World War.

Péronne and the Museum of the Great War

Péronne, which was occupied by the Germans for almost the entire duration of the war, is an unmissable entrance to the Circuit du Souvenir (Remembrance Route), with its Museum of the Great War, which is an internationally renowned museum functioning in three languages, certified as a “Musée de France” (Museum of France). Built in 1992, the Museum, located in the town’s medieval chateau, is a daring example of modern architecture and the work of the architect Henri Ciriani. This museum of the Great War allows visitors to compare the war experiences of the three main warring parties through a theme based and chronological insight. The permanent collections, containing more than 1, 600 exhibits, and the quality of the temporary exhibitions provide us with a better understanding of the cultural, social and military aspect of this the first global conflict.

On the route to Thiepval, where one meets French, South Africans and Australians

A few kilometres to the north, at Rancourt, lies the largest French cemetery in the Somme département. It is where the Chapelle du Souvenir Français (Chapel of French Remembrance) (tel.: 03 22 85 04 47) is to be found which was built by the Bos family in memory of their son and his comrades killed on 25 September 1916 during an offensive which was intended to cut off the Bapaume-Péronne road from the Germans.

From there, the visitor can go to Longueval, at the heart of the Bois Delville, where the South African Museum and Memorial were built as a tribute to the South African soldiers who endured their baptism of fire on 15 July 1916. The Memorial was inaugurated on 10 October 1926 in memory of all the South Africans who fell during the Great War in the various battles. The museum also commemorates the 25,000  South African men and women volunteers, who lost their lives during the two world wars as well as the Korean war (tel: 03 22 85 02 17, www.delvillewood.com).

Not far from Longueval, is the German cemetery of Fricourt where 17,027 soldiers are buried. Around a thousand of them were killed between the end of August 1914 and June 1916 ; ten thousand lost their lives between the end of June and the middle of November 1916, during the Battle of the Somme ; a little over six thousand of them perished during the  offensives in 1918, between March and October.  It was at Fricourt, that the body of the Baron Manfred von Richthofen, known as the Red Baron, was buried for a time before finally being laid to rest at Wiesbaden in 1925.

Situated on the road to Thiepval, Pozières is the town where Australian troops first became involved on a large scale. It was the obstacle that had to be removed in order to take the Thiepval hill which was held by the Germans. Of interest is the tank monument which symbolises the first tanks to appear on the battlefield, the remains of the “Gibraltar" blockhouse, and the memorial to the 1st  Australian division.

Thiepval and the British site of remembrance

Thiepval is without doubt one of the major British sites of remembrance. The Franco-British Memorial, which is a work by the architect Edwin Lutyens, remembers the 72, 205 men from the British and South African armies who died or were lost in action in the Somme between July 1915 and March 1918. Standing 45 metres tall, it is the biggest British war Memorial in the world. The Memorial is made from brick and its 16 pillars are covered in Portland white stone plates on which are etched the names of the fallen. A visitor centre has been open since 2004, with its educational exhibition about the battles of the Great War, notably the battle of the Somme and Thiepval. Using the information terminals one can also look up individual soldiers, or locate a cemetery or a grave (tel: 03 22 74 60 47).

A few hundred metres from the Franco-British memorial stands the Tour d’Ulster de Thiepval (Ulster Tower of Thiepval) at the spot where on 1 July 1916, the men from the Ulster battalions fought and died, now stands this memorial in their honour. The Ulster Tower, also called the Belfast Tower or the Hélène Tower, is a replica of a gothic troubadour style tower, from Clandeboyne park in Ireland, which is where the Ulster Division trained. It was erected in 1921 thanks to contributions from the public (tel: 03 22 74 81 11).

Terre-Neuve en Somme (Newfoundland in the Somme) : Beaumont-Hamel

You only have to travel a few kilometres to reach the Terre-Neuve Mémorial at Beaumont-Hamel (Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont-Hamel). This memorial offers a moving and realistic insight into the battles which were fought, thanks to the trenches which have been remarkably well conserved. Created by the landscape -architect Rodolphe Cochius, the park stretches over 30 hectares and was opened in 1925. At its centre on the summit of the butte du Caribou (little hill of the Reindeer), a bronze statue of a reindeer, the insignia of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, looks out over the whole battlefield and the network of trenches. It was there that on 1 July 1916, at 9am, the men from the Newfoundland regiment, who had barely emerged from their trenches, found themselves under fire from the German machine guns. Half an hour later only 68 were left to carry on the fight. All the officers had either been killed or wounded. This event was one of the bloodiest of the Somme offensive (tel: 03 22 76 70 86, www.vac-acc.gc.ca).

Albert and its surroundings

A little detour away from the road to Albert, will take you to a place where you can look down at the La Boisselle mine hole. This mine hole which is 100 metres in diameter and 30 metres deep is what remains from a series of explosions on 1 July 1916 the date when the battle of the Somme began. Every year during the British commemorations, a ceremony is held at 7:28 am precisely to remember the start of the battle of the Somme.

The town of Albert, which was subjected to non-stop bombardment during the war, was nothing but a vast field of ruins by the time of the armistice. Today it is home to the Somme 1916 Museum : which running to 250 metres in length and 10 metres in depth provides the visitor with an insight into the life that soldiers endured in the trenches. Visitors will be taken aback by the heroic yet terrible atmosphere created by the remarkable life size re-enactments which depict the hard life that our forefathers had to endure. The museography is intended to bring some meaning to, to stir emotions, and reintroduce a human dimension to history and its dramatic events through rich collections of exhibits, equipment and weaponry. A brand new  “Heroes’ Gallery “ introduces nine people who shaped the Great War such as John Mac Crae or Sadi Lecointe (tel: 03 22 75 16 17, www.musee-somme-1916.eu).

Villers-Bretonneux : a little corner of Australia

Designed by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, the imposing National Australian Memorial of Villers-Bretonneux was the last of the great memorials of the British and Commonwealth Empire to the First World War to be built in France. This memorial made from white stone bears the names of the 11,000 Australian soldiers who died for France, or went missing in action or who do not have a known grave. Every 25th April at 05:00 am is celebrated the Dawn Service of Anzac Day as a way of paying tribute to the soldiers who distinguished themselves during the battles in Picardy in 1918. A Franco-Australian museum is located on the first floor of the Victoria school which was built between 1923 and 1927 using donations from the pupils from the State schools of Victoria in Australia. The museum retraces the story of the Australian expeditionary corps during the First World War and more particularly at the Western Front in 1918 (tel: 03 22 96 80 79, www.museeaustralien.com).

Behind the front

In Doullens, in the town hall, is to be found the Salle du Commandement Unique (Single Command Room) which depicts a decisive turning point in the history of the Great War. It was here that on 26 March 1918, the French and British governments made General Foch commander of the Allied Forces, a responsibility that was to see him lead the troops for the counter-offensive of the 8 August which would lead to the armistice of 11 November 1918 (tel: 03 22 32 54 52, www.doullens-tourisme.com).

Built to remember the contribution made by foreign workers during the conflict, the Chinese cemetery at Noyelles is where lie buried the bodies of 849 Chinese who died from illnesses at the "Native Labour" hospital, located right next to the Chinese work camp at Noyelles-sur-Mer (tel: 03 22 25 69 94, www.ville-rue.fr).