The Great War Centenary
The Great War Centenary 2014-18
Commemorations continue across many locations in Flanders and Northern France, marking the 100th anniversary of significant events of the First World War. Spending time in the peaceful battlefields of Belgium or France offers the chance to witness the sites, learn about the history as it unfolded and perhaps even discover the personal story of a friend or relative who was there at the time. Museums, civic buildings and galleries have been transformed and many are hosting impressive Great War exhibitions, some of which are only open to visitors for a few weeks. Elsewhere you can visit locations across the region that have been carefully preserved since the war and, of course, the many dozens of military cemeteries and monuments which are kept so immaculately in honour of the fallen.
The Flanders Fields saw some of the bloodiest battles of the First World War with a million soldiers wounded, missing or killed in the conflict. Today the landscape of the region tells the story of the war, there are some excellent museums and memorials to remember the conflict and the people affected including:
- In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres - telling the story of the First World War by focusing on the experiences of ordinary people.
- The Last Post at The Menin Gate, Ypres - every evening at 8pm since 1928 – on more than 30,000 occasions - a short ceremony takes place and The Last Post is played beneath the Memorial.
- German Military Cemetary, Langemark - 10km from Ypres set in a quiet wood. 44,300 soldiers are buried here, half of them in a mass grave, with over 3,000 cadets and student volunteers among them
- Memorial Museum of Passchendaele - a renovated museum set in Zonnebeke chateau with walking trails to Tyne Cot cemetery, reconstructions of trenches and a new Memorial Park.
- Tyne Cot Cemetery - the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission military cemetery with almost 12,000 tombstones. The sheer scale of this place is extraordinary and is a must-see for many visitors to Flanders.
- Poperinge - 13km from Ypres lies Poperinge and three significant sites: The Death Cells, Lijssenthoek visitor centre and Talbot House, a fascinating safe house and everyman's club behind the front line.
- Yser Tower, Diksmuide – 23km north of Ypres is the market town of Diksmuide where the Yser tower (84m high) is open as an interesting museum with magnificent views from the top as far as the North Sea coast.
The Northern French town of Arras - with its famous network of ancient tunnels ("Les Boves") that were inhabited by the troops - was a strategically important settlement during the second half of World War 1, being under the control of the allies and just a few kilometres behind the Western Front. It was here that the allies planned and executed a broad offensive towards Douai along a 20km stretch in the spring of 1917. Arras, besides having its own remarkable contribution to the war, is ideally situated for visiting sites, monuments, museums and events in all directions surrounding the town, which is only an hour's drive from the Calais.
- Wellington Quarry - the idea of thousands of people living and operating beneath the town is extraordinary, and visitors to Arras can experience the tunnels first hand at this well-conceived military museum where tours are available with commentary.
- Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery - just to the west of the Arras is the town's main cemetery including a section dedicated to the Commonwealth, bequeathed by the French, containing over 2,600 burials.
- Arras Memorial - at the same cemetery is the immaculate memorial commemorating almost 35,000 servicemen from the UK, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the offensives near Arras between 1916 and 1918.
- Canadian National Vimy Memorial - 10 km north of Arras lies Vimy Ridge with impressive views across the surrounding plains and site of the vast and imposing memorial to Canadian forces, along with a visitor centre.
- Musée Vivant 1914-1918: - west of Vimy near the village of Souchez is Notre Dame de Lorette where lies France's largest military cemetery and a museum to one of the worst battles of the start of the war, which lasted 12 months from October 1914.
- Drive the Circuit du Souvenir - take your time to follow a well-marked itinerary of 40km from Albert to Péronne, stopping at sites of interest that detail the Battle of the Somme in 1916
- "La Maison Blanche" German Military Cemetery - Neuville St Vaast, to the north of Arras is home to the largest German burial site where nearly 45,000 casualties from across France were finally laid to rest.
The historic town of Arras was at the centre of much of the fighting in World War 1, narrowly avoiding capture by the Germans in the initial rush of their invasion in Autumn 1914. Right behind the Front Line, the town’s civilian population was evacuated and its defending troops lived in tunnels under constant bombardment by enemy shelling.
A visit to Arras allows you to tour the tunnels and cellars underneath the town where troops sheltered during the war. The nearby Vimy ridge and two towering pylons of the Vimy memorial make a memorable excursion.
OTI Bayeux-Bessin -G. Wait
A medieval treasure in the heart of Normandy, full of beautiful architecture, narrow cobbled streets and superb market squares. An incredibly special place as it is one of the few towns that survived WWII in tact. Built on the site of the old Roman settlement of Augustodurum, Bayeux is full of relics from the past. Whether you are interested in the 11th century Cathedral of Notre Dame, the famous Norman Bayeux Tapestry, the unbelievable history, museums and memorials dedicated to the D-Day landings or are simply besotted by the towns stunning surroundings, Bayeux will delight all who visit it.
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Situated in the heart of the Suisse Normande region of Normandy, the small village of Clécy provides a haven of peace and tranquility. Clécy lies on the River Orne and is overlooked by the stunning cliffs that are characteristic of the Suisse Normande region. The beautiful rocky landscape attracts outdoor enthusiasts, with a plethora of activities available. Rock climbing, walking, canoeing and horse riding are just some of the sports you can enjoy.
The gorgeous sandy Normandy beaches are only a drive away as are the towns of Caen and Bayeux. Clécy is also a brilliant stopover point if you wish to tour the Battlefields and D-Day landing sites on the Normandy coast.
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Ypres is a pretty town of medieval origin, surrounded by fantastic fortifications. Over the centuries it has been subjected to much torment and destruction. Although almost completely rebuilt following the tremendous devastation of the First World War, Ypres remains a living museum. Most buildings are relatively new but the skilled renovation of seventy years ago has made the weathered replicas now appear original. This small Flemish town is primarily for those interested in the Battlefields with extensive memorials and mementoes of World War One but do not be too surprised when you find both its charm and its beauty have seduced you. The impressive In Flanders Fields Museum in the centre of Ypres has now re-opened following an extensive renovation and all our short break packages to Ypres include tickets to this unmissable attraction.