Somme & Verdun World War One battlefield sites
---------UPDATE 2016: I've just been on an extensive field trip of the WW1 Western Front sites, so you can expect several new detailed chapters appearing here in due course. It is a lot of work, though, so please bear with me. ----------
, the names of the Somme and Verdun in France
conjure up associations with the bloody carnage of the First World War
, or Great War, as it is often known in the English-speaking world.
Both places rank very high in battlefield tourism
(or war tourism in general), but are mentioned here less for the colossal monuments or extensive war cemeteries, sobering as they may be, but more for the historical museums in the area.
In the Somme, in northern France, the main place to mention is the Historial de la Grande Guerre, located in the town of Peronne (on Place Andre Audinot), with its extensive trilingual exhibitions with lots of interactive media and stuff. Probably the most important place here. It's open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed for about a month from mid-December to mid-January), admission 7.50 EUR. Audio guides available.
Google maps locators:
Another place to point out is the Musee Somme 1916
, in the town of Albert, at Rue Anicet Godin. It's in an underground shelter and displays include dummies and sound effects and such like. Opening times 9 a.m. to 12 noon and 2 to 6 p.m. (no lunch closing time in summer, closed altogether in the second half of December and January), admission 5 EUR.
At Villers-Bretonneux there's a Franco-Australian museum (of special interest for Aussies) and at Guillemont one that focuses on the South African contribution to the war.
At Verdun, further south-east near the borders with Belgium and Luxembourg, the Memorial de Verdun museum in Fleury-devant Douaumont (one of the abandoned destroyed villages of the area) stands out, with large life-size reconstructions of trenches and lots of artefacts (open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer, only to 5 p.m. and with a two-hour lunch break in autumn and winter, closed altogether in the second half of December and January; admission 7 EUR).
It's en route to the famous Ossuary
and gigantic memorial
, which houses the remains of a staggering 130,000 unidentified dead soldiers. On the first floor is another museum, and the tower of the memorial commanding views of the surrounding former battlefield can be climbed. There's also a cinema where a film about Verdun is screened (also in English). Opening times 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer, typically reduced times (with a two-hour lunch break) outside the high season, and closed altogether in January. Both are located along the D913 road north of the town of Verdun (leave the centre in an easterly direction first on the D603, the D913 branches off left after about two to three miles).
Of the outdoor sites, the "moonscapes" of craters from endless shelling, ruins of forts, as well as remnants of trenches and destroyed villages may be of more interest to the dark tourist.
Care has to be taken, however, as there are still numerous UXO
and other hazardous items in the area in various stages of decay (which makes them only more dangerous) – it's best to stay on clearly marked paths and never to touch anything that looks remotely suspicious.
Several agents offer guided tours of varying comprehensiveness of the Somme and/or Verdun – this may be the best way of visiting these places, esp. for those who are really into this subject.