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Though long since lost from living memory and now more than 100 years in the past, the First World War continues to hold a fascination for British and Commonwealth citizens, many of whom have ancestors who fought and died in this ‘War to End All Wars’. Travel just a short distance across the Channel and into France and Belgium and there are a host of memorials, museums and battlefields connected with the five-year conflict to be found.
Talbot House provides a gentle introduction to our tour with an insight into life behind the lines for British soldiers as they escaped briefly from the horrors of war, but the stark reality is brought home as we visit cemeteries at Essex Farm, Langemark and Tyne Cot. At the museum known as In Flanders Field, named for one of the best known poems of the war, we see the exhibition which tells of the invasion of Belgium and the four years of trench war in the Westhoek, before continuing to Ieper (Ypres) where we attend the moving ceremony of the playing of the ‘Last Post’ at the Menin Gate.
After our day in Belgium our attention shifts to the Somme region of France, where we visit both branches of the Historial de la Grande Guerre - the Museum of the Great War – at Péronne and at Thiepval, which provide detailed accounts of the campaign in the Somme and also act as memorials to the dead and missing. Other visits include the Lochnagar Crater, the remains of a mine that was exploded at the start of the Battle of the Somme and the only one accessible to the public; and the Newfoundland Memorial Park and the Ulster Tower, dedicated to the memory of soldiers of the Newfoundland Regiment and the 36th (Ulster) Division respectively. Our final visit is to the scene of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, where there is a memorial to Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Our tours will be led by David MacLennan, a battlefield tour specialist.
- Services of a professional tour manager
- Comfortable coach travel throughout
- Meals - as per the itinerary
- Ferry crossings
18 October 2019: Itinerary
We depart from central London and Gatwick Airport and head for Dover in time to catch a mid-morning ferry to Calais. Refreshments are available on board (not included). We continue via Dunkirk to our comfortable hotel in Lille, where the remainder of the afternoon is free to explore the town’s many sites and monuments, such as the Palais Rihour, the Grand Place, the old stock exchange, the opera house and the town hall belfry, which offers a 360° view over the town (entrances not included).
Meals include: Dinner
Hotel: Crowne Plaza Hotel, Lille
After breakfast this morning we depart on a full-day excursion to the Flanders regions Belgium, which has many connections with the First World War. We begin in the town of Poperinge, where we will visit the museum at Talbot House (Toc H) which was used by the British Army as a club for soldiers of all ranks to rest and relax, and escape briefly from the horrors of the war. The exhibition on life behind the lines explains why Poperinge was called "Little Paris" by many soldiers, gives an account of life in the military camps and shows how the men kept their morale high. On the first floor of the concert hall we will discover what a World War I concert party looked like and in the Old House we will learn something about the military past of the house, which is still used on a daily basis and is the same "Every Man’s Club" it was a century ago.
We continue to Essex Farm, which was the location of an Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) during the Great War, and now is the site of a CWGC Cemetery, as well as the remains of several bunkers some of which were used by the ADS. Mindful of the losses suffered by both sides, we will also visit the German cemetery at Langemark, where 44,000 soldiers are buried.
For lunch (not included) we will stop at the Hooge Crater Café and Museum. Later in the afternoon we will visit Tyne Cot, which is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Cemetery on the Western Front with 11,953 burials. The name is said to come from the Northumberland Fusiliers seeing a resemblance between the German concrete pill boxes, which still stand in the middle of the cemetery, and typical Tyneside workers' cottages – Tyne Cots.
We continue to Ieper (more usually known to British soldiers as Ypres), where we visit the In Flanders Field Museum, which presents the story of World War I in the West Flanders front region. It is located in the renovated Cloth Halls of Ieper, an important symbol of wartime hardship and later recovery. The permanent exhibition tells the story of the invasion of Belgium and the first months of the mobilisation, the four years trench war in the Westhoek, the end of the war and the permanent remembrance ever since.
After an opportunity for dinner at a local restaurant in Ieper (not included) we proceed to the Menin Gate in time to attend the evening ceremony of the playing of the ‘Last Post’, a tradition which has been in place since its inauguration in 1927. We then return to our hotel at around 10pm.
Meals include: Breakfast
Hotel: Crowne Plaza Hotel, Lille
After breakfast we depart on a full-day excursion to the Somme region of France, beginning with a visit to the Historial de la Grande Guerre - the Museum of the Great War – in Péronne. A highly respected museum devoted to the history of the First World War, the Historial studies the full cultural, social and military scale of this important chapter of history. The perspectives of the three main European nations at war (France, Germany and Great Britain) interweave through the memories of war experienced from the battle front to behind the lines. The idea of a new museum at the heart of the battlefields was conceived by the Somme Departmental Council who decided to incorporate it into the 13th century castle of Péronne, which had suffered so greatly during the Great War.
We continue to the memorial at Lochnagar Crater. On the 1st July 1916, the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, the men leaving their positions for battle at 7:30am had no idea that they were going towards almost certain death. To destroy parts of the German front line and create huge craters, several mines were blown minutes before the infantry assault was launched. One of them, Lochnagar Crater, measuring 90 metres in diameter and 20 metres in depth, was bought by Richard Dunning in 1978 and is the only crater to have been made accessible to the public.
After lunch (not included) at the Old Blighty café in La Boiselle, we continue to the Newfoundland Memorial Park near Beaumont Hamel. The land was purchased by the Dominion of Newfoundland after the First World War and is named after the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which had provided a battalion of 800 men to serve with the British and Commonwealth Armies. The site is also a memorial to all the Newfoundlanders who fought in the First World War, most particularly those who have no known grave.
Our next visit is to the Ulster Tower, the first official war memorial to be erected on the Western Front, in 1921. The Tower stands some 70 feet tall and is a lasting tribute to the men of Ulster who gave their lives during the First World War, in particular the Officers and Men of the 36th (Ulster) Division Its position on the battlefield is a permanent reminder of the Division’s heroic charge at the Battle of the Somme on the opening day of that great offensive.
Our final visit is to the Thiepval Memorial and Museum. The memorial was unveiled in 1932 and was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (who also designed the Cenotaph in London) to commemorate the Missing, more than 72,000 men from the British and South African forces who were reported missing in the Somme before 20 March 1918. The nearby Museum, part of the Historial de la Grande Guerre, is devoted to the history of the battles of the Somme, especially the Somme Campaign of 1916, and to the memory of the Missing. The permanent exhibition unites museum pieces, archaeological artefacts, multimedia, and large-scale installations such as the replica of Charles Guynemer’s aeroplane.
Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner
Hotel: Crowne Plaza Hotel, Lille
After breakfast this morning we check out of the hotel and depart for our final visit, the Vimy Memorial, Canada’s largest overseas national memorial, which overlooks the Douai Plain from the highest point of Vimy Ridge. It commemorates more than 11,000 men of the Canadian Expeditionary Force killed during the First World War in France and who have no known grave. Many of them died in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, which was not only a key victory but marks a turning point in Canadian history as soldiers from all over Canada fought together.
We then continue to Calais in time to catch a late afternoon ferry to Dover. On arrival we continue to Gatwick Airport and London where the group will disperse.
Meals include: Breakfast
18 October 2019: Additional Info
18 October 2019: Accommodation