The Great War Battlefields of the Western Front

last post at meningateIt was the war to end all wars and it was going to be over by Christmas 1914 - sadly neither statement was to be true. The world had never seen a conflict like it, mass slaughter on an industrial scale. Between 8.5 million and 9 million servicemen and women from all the warring nations would not make it home. For some of them there is no grave, their name etched on one of the many memorials to the Missing.

Soldier's descendents from all over the world are today still making pilgrimages to the battlefields, visitors centres, museums, cemeteries and memorials in France and Flanders. Visitors from Canada, who forged its nation on the bloody slopes of Vimy Ridge, from Australia to the tiny village of Pozieres and to Villers-Bretonneux, from the United States to the US Cemetery at Bony and Belleau Wood and, of course, the English, the Irish, the Welsh and the Scots to all of the Western Front. Just after the Great War, memorials sprung up in almost every village and town throughout the UK, at that time the only place where loved ones could grieve as soldiers even if found were not repatriated home. For those soldiers who had a grave, many families could not afford to travel to visit, now decades later, those descendants are now coming to pay respects to the 'Lost Generation'.


The Somme today is a place of great beauty and tranquillity and a million miles removed from the horrors of the Great War which saw many of its lovely towns and villages destroyed and the landscape scarred beyond comprehension.

It is the final resting place for millions of soldiers - French, British, German and Commonwealth troops. Their cemeteries dot the horizon and almost follow the Front Line. It is estimated that nearly 2 million soldiers from all the nations that fought in the Great War are missing and it is estimated that if you walk six paces in any direction on the Front Line, you would be walking on a soldier's grave. 50% of those dying on the battlefield in the Great War have no known grave and there are over 350,000 British missing. Some are still being found every year, and are reburied with their comrades.

thiepval memorialThe Somme is famous for the 1st of July 1916 when it witnessed the worst day in British Army history with 19,000 dead in a matter of hours and 36,000 wounded. Four million combatants (all armies combined) engaged on a 40 kilometre front. The battle continued until 18th November 1916, eight miles was advanced and the cost was 420,000 casualties sustained in four months of fighting. By the end of 1916 well over half the soldiers who would die in the Great War had already been killed and millions more wounded or taken prisoner.

Visitors make the trip to this part of France for different reasons. Some come to trace a family member in one of the cemeteries or who is named on one of the memorials. For whatever reason you visit the Somme, you will be compelled to return.


Yorkshire TrenchIn Flanders fields lay the remains of soldiers from more than 30 nations. Some five million British and Commonwealth soldiers passed through the town of Ypres on their way to the battlefields. The Ypres Salient was the infamous bloodbath that saw three major battles.

During the Ypres battles there were more than one million casualties, and half of these fell during the most famous of these - 'The Third Battle of Ypres' more commonly known as the 'Battle for Passchendaele' with 400,000 casualties in one hundred days. It is here that more Victoria Crosses were gained in capturing some of the German bunkers during the Third Battle of Ypres than anywhere else. Losses on both sides were horrendous for a territorial gain of just 8 kilometres.

This battleground contains Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth war cemetery on mainland Europe. In 2007 a new visitor centre was opened by Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Paola of Belgium which looks out over the old battlefields.

In Ypres, at the Menin Gate, the Last Post is played every night at 8 pm, a daily tribute to honour the memory of the soldiers who fought and died in the Ypres Salient. It has been played every night since 1928. The Menin Gate has the names of 54,896 soldiers who have no known grave engraved upon its walls.

Arras - The Forgotten Battlefields

Notre DameThis area of France is sometimes known as the 'forgotten battlefields' because Flanders and the Somme get more battlefield visitors, yet it is here on the Arras front that has over 150 British cemeteries, which bear testament to the huge losses. It is also here that you can see some of the most stunning, picturesque, memorials and villages along with the town of Arras itself. Arras is the historic centre of the Artois region with its two famous squares and two world heritage sites - the Citadel and the belfry of Arras.

There were battles in the region May and September 1915 with the Battle of Arras taking place on 9th April 1917. The town of Arras is the location of the underground tunnels which housed thousands of troops before the assault.

The Arras battlefields contain Vimy Ridge, Neuville-Saint Vast, Thelus, Saint-Laurent-Blangy where 31,400 German soldiers lie in a mass tomb, Tilloy-les-Mofflaines, Monchy-Le-Preux, Notre Dame de Lorette French Military Cemetery, The Flame of Peace at La Targette, The towers of Mont Saint Eloi Abbey, The Cemetery of Maison Blanche, the largest German military cemetery in France, the Czech Cemetery and Polish Memorial, Bullecourt British and Australian memorials, the Indian and Chinese cemeteries in Ayette, Sheffield Memorial Park, and the animal war memorial in Couin.

It is here in the Arras battlefields that some of the most interesting and stunning memorials to the Great War are located.

The Battles at Arnhem and Oosterbeek:

Visit to the Dropping and Landing Zones, area Wolfheze:
Drive to Arnhem along the route taken by 2 PARA (Lt Col Frost) to the division operational objective - the Bridge
Eusebius Church
Hartenstein Airborne Museum
Visit sites of field hospital and the "ter Horst House"
Visit site of "Lonsdale Church", view river evacuation locations
Visit Oosterbeek CWGC

The Battles South of the Neder Rijn:

Visit Driel dropping zone and village
View Heveadorp Ferry site
Visit to Nederlands Open Air Museum.