Visiting The Somme – WWI Battlefields
- 1 Paris to Villers-Bretonneux – Visiting the Somme
- 2 Tour to the Somme Battlefields
- 2.1 The town of Villers-Bretonneux
- 2.2 Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux
- 2.3 Australian Corps Memorial – Le Hamel France
- 2.4 Basilique Notre-Dame de Brebières in Albert
- 2.5 Lochnigar Crater
- 2.6 Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park
- 2.7 The 51st Highland Division War Memorial
- 2.8 Thiepval Memorial
- 2.9 The South Africa National Memorial
- 2.10 Peronne
- 3 Tours of The Somme WWI Battlefields
- 4 Summary
I remember visiting Alan’s Grandmother and noticing a picture of a distinguished looking man on her wall. “That’s my father, he died in the Great War!” she said. Looking into his eyes, I found myself wanting to know more about this man. Little did I know that I would be travelling halfway across the world, visiting the Somme WWI Battlefields.
When Peter Anderson left Australian shores to fight in WWI he left behind a young family. I always wondered how hard it was for Alan’s Grandmother to grow up without a father. Before I could ask her these questions she died. I was left his photo and a framed plaque with his name, the date of death, enlistment number and an inscription saying that is name was engraved on a wall at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France.
Finding Peter Anderson
I have a love of family history so I decided to do some research. Thanks to the plaque I had his date of death, and enlistment number, I found his records on the Australian War Museum site. Over the next few months I found many helpful sites, that not only told me about his last night of battle, but also described what kind of man he was. During one of these searches I discovered that he was buried at Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.
Paris to Villers-Bretonneux – Visiting the Somme
We had been to Paris before and regretted not visiting Villers-Bretonneux. As I booked our flights to Paris, I swore that this time we would go.
There are a few ways to get from Paris to the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.
You can take a train from Gare Du Nord in Paris to Amiens, then take a train to Villers-Bretonneux and walk the 2 kilometres to the Memorial. Catch the train to Amiens and join a tour, or you can take the easy way out like we did and take a tour from Paris straight to the WWI battlefields.
We highly recommend this tour for anyone interested in WW1 Battlefieds. The tour isn’t just for Australians, but for any nationality who fought battles in WWI.
Tour to the Somme Battlefields
Just before dawn we were picked up from our Paris apartment and started our 2-hour journey to the WWI Somme Battlefields.
The town of Villers-Bretonneux
The village of Villers-Bretonneux came as a surprise to us, we found a town with a great respect for Australians. Twelve hundred Australians gave their lives recapturing the village of Viller-Bretonneux WWI. We visited the Victoria School, so called because it was a gift from the children of Victoria, Australia to the children of Villers-Bretonneux.
Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux
After Gallipoli, the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux is the most significant site for Australians and New Zealanders to pay homage to the ANZACS who lost their lives in the First World War. The dawn ceremonies on ANZAC Day are televised and extremely moving.
We arrived early in the morning, and after a short search we found Peter Anderson’s grave. It meant a lot to us to pay our respects in person, to know he wasn’t forgotten.
The area was so peaceful, the grounds beautifully maintained, after almost 100 years. I can’t thank the people of France enough for taking such great care of the WWI war graves.
Australian Corps Memorial – Le Hamel France
Gazing over the picturesque fields and village of Le Hamel, it is hard to believe that this was once a battlefield. The battle of Le Hamel was led by Australian commander John Monash and was one of the first victories and a turning point in the war. This is where Peter Anderson lost his life and it was fitting that I found a poppy as I walked along the fields. The area is also the place where Germany’s famous Red Baron (Manfred Von Richthofen) was shot down.
Basilique Notre-Dame de Brebières in Albert
The Basilique Notre-Dame de Brebières in the town of Albert, was destroyed in the first world war. In 1915 the dome holding the statue of the Virgin Mary was hit by a shell leaving the statue teetering precariously by her toes. At the time the legend said, that if the virgin fell the war would end, she fell in April 1918. Thankfully today it has been restored to its former glory.
The Lochnagar Crater was so pretty, and filled with multi-coloured wild flowers when we visited, a stark contrast to its original purpose. The crater was created by a British mine and originally measured 100 metres across and 30 metres deep, the debris rose 1,220 metres into the air and is the largest crater ever made in warfare.
Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park
The battles of Beaumont- Hamel were bloody. The first battle on the 1st of July 1916 resulted in a devastating loss of life for Canada’s Newfoundland Regiment. The 30 hectare park preserves the battlefield where the Newfoundland Regiment fought.
To get to the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, you have to weave your way through the grass covered gullies of the former trenches. As I walked, I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live and fight in these trenches. Arriving at the Newfoundland Memorial, you can’t help but be impressed and saddened by the bronze Caribou rising on a rocky ledge above you.
The 51st Highland Division War Memorial
Continuing the fight, the 51st Highland Division captured Beaufort-Hamel on the 13th of November 1916. It was the first major victory for the 51st Highland Division. Overlooking the notorious Y Ravine, a handsome statue of a kilted Scottish soldier honours the 51st Highland Division. The 51st Highland Division War Memorial shares a place in Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park
The Thiepval Memorial is a memorial to the men missing in action on the Somme Battlefields. The walls bear the names of 72,194 men, from the United Kingdom and South Africa. A shocking number, an annihilation of a generation. This imposing memorial is set in lush green fields surrounded by trees.
The South Africa National Memorial
The South African National Memorial is in the Delville Wood. Around 10,000 South Africans lost their lives during WWI. The memorial is on the site of South Africa’s the first major battle on the Western front. The grounds of the memorial remain as they did at the close of WWI and are the resting place of hundreds of South African soldiers. I found it peaceful place of great beauty.
Our last visit of the day was the Historical Museum of the Great War in Peronne. Housed in an old Medieval Castle which was an attraction in itself. The Museum has over 1,600 artefacts including uniforms.
After visiting the Museum, we set out to explore the pretty town of Peronne. We took time to appreciate and enjoy the afternoon sun while watching people fish off the banks of a lake. A fitting end to an emotion charged day.
Tours of The Somme WWI Battlefields
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the WWI Battlefields and Memorials. In hindsight I think if we had done this independently we would not have learnt as much about the Somme. The tour isn’t just for Australians, but for any nationality who fought battles in WWI. We highly recommend this tour for anyone interested in WW1 Battlefieds and Memorials.
When I started out on this journey all I really wanted was information, this information took me halfway around the world to a place I will never forget. Some may think that visiting the Somme is glorifying war, but I think of it as reaffirming the senseless waste of war.
If you have family history or an interest in the First World War, I highly recommend this battlefield trip. It will not only be an emotional day but a rewarding day as well. Honour those young men who lost their lives, for a cause long forgotten. The war that was to end all wars.
I would like to thank the people of France for keeping the war graves and monuments looking so beautiful.
While visiting the Somme you will find are many memorials commemorating WWI battlefields. Not all are mention in this story, please feel free to leave a comment if you have a memorial that is important to you.
Here are some of the websites I used for tracing family war records. I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any more questions feel free to contact me.
I hope you enjoyed our story on visiting the Somme and would love to hear from you in the comments section below about your visit, or planned visit. Please feel free to contact me for more information.