More background info:
For the general military background see under the Somme
, and cf. Ypres
The village of Auchonvillers came to be close to the front line in September 1914 when this section of the Western Front was manned by the French. They dug the first trench here, a communication trench
leading to the actual front line at Beaumont-Hamel
. Remnants of this trench can be found behind the house at 10 Rue Delattre, which now functions as a tea room and guest house (see below!).
From July 1915, the British took over this part of the Allied front line, evacuated the last few residents, re-dug the trench and strengthened its walls and floor. It would also have been around this time that Auchonvillers acquired its nickname “Ocean Villas” among the British (alluding to the way they mispronounced the village’s name).
Roughly a year later, at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme
on 1 July 1916, this communication trench would have been used by soldiers of the British 29th Division to get to the front for the attack. Survivors, including the wounded, would have been coming back through the same trench.
In 1918 during the German Spring Offensive, the trench would have been used again, this time around by New Zealand
In addition to the trench, the cellar of the house is also an archaeological find. Cellars were widely used for storage purposes, as dressing stations or signalling posts. After the war, the destroyed village was rebuilt, including the current house at 10 Rue Delattre. The cellar was rediscovered and studied archaeologically after the current British owner of the premises, Avril Williams, acquired them in 1992. It is said that the cellar is the only surviving WW1-era one left in the entire village.
The trench system behind the house was also rediscovered and from 1997 volunteers worked to restore it to the state it would have been in during WW1
. Professional war archaeologists investigated the trench in 1998, and since 1999 it has been open to the public, both resident guests of the guest house and drop-in visitors at the “Ocean Villas” tea room. A volunteer team looks after the trench and sees to the regular maintenance necessary now as it was back in WW1, to prevent the walls from collapsing as a result of being exposed to the elements all the time. Artefacts found in the trench and in the cellar are on display in the “Ocean Villas” tea room and the guest house’s lounge.
Almost a decade later the large war relics collection
of Andre Coillot (see below) was purchased by Avril Williams and opened as a museum
on 1 July 2008 in the presence of Major and Mrs Holt, the first pioneers of battlefield tourism in Flanders
and northern France
and authors of several guidebooks for this special niche of tourism in these parts (and beyond, including Normandy
The “Ocean Villas” guest house is thus an ideal base, especially from a British perspective, for exploring the area. Dedicated WW1 battlefield tourists can expect to be amongst like-minded people when staying here. There’s also a calendar of special events, such as lectures by historians and expert-guided tours to battlefield sites.
What there is to see:
at Auchonvillers is housed in a barn-like building across the street from the “Ocean Villas” tea room and guest house (see below
Inside is not so much an exhibition but a collection
(some might say jumble) of a wide range of items, from WW1
-era shells, helmets from all sides, weapons, maps, signs, propaganda posters, uniforms, packs of cigarettes, gas masks, medical kits and whatnot.
What sets this collection apart from all the others in the Somme is that it also includes items related to WWII
, when much of France
was under Nazi
German occupation. For instance, the collection includes a US Army jeep and a German 75mm Panzerkanone artillery piece “manned” by a mannequin in a Wehrmacht uniform.
There are a few handwritten labels for individual exhibits, but otherwise there is almost no background information or narrative. So this is more for WW1-history buffs and militaria fans who already know their stuff and are mostly interested in viewing authentic artefacts and relics.
There’s one notable exception: next to a mannequin wearing striped concentration camp
clothing, a sign explains (in French and English) that this was donated to the museum by a woman who was in the French Resistance during the occupation by the Nazis in WWII and saved scores of Allied airmen between 1940 and 1943, before she was arrested and sent to Ravensbrück
On the outer wall next to the entrance is also a “Wall of Remembrance”, which is unusual and different from the typical such walls of names in that it does not only honour those who died in the war but also participants who survived, but have otherwise no publicly visible recognition of their service.
There are also some more trenches/reconstructions in the field next to the museum building. Whether these would also be open to visitors to walk in I don’t know. I didn’t try.
The refurbished original trench behind the “Ocean Villas” guest house is open to the public and unless bad (wet) weather precludes it, you are allowed to walk in the trench. This applies not only to guests staying at the guest house but also to drop-in visitors. Being quite tall, I found the trench rather low. I’d have to walk it crouched down if I wanted to avoid my head popping out beyond the parapet.
Inside the B&B lounge and inside the “Ocean Villas” tea room are artefacts
found in the cellar (see above
) and the trench as well as various plaques and markers for the volunteers who look after the trench and such like.
, the trench may come with a dose of place authenticity, but the collection of war relics is more for the fully dedicated and can’t compete in presentation terms with the professional museums of the region
; but as a base for exploring all those and the original battlefield sites and memorials in the area, especially if you are British, this place is hard to beat.
The “Ocean Villas” guest house and museum are right by the B73 route in the southern end of the village of Auchonvillers, Picardy, northern France
, a ca. 6 miles (10 km) drive from Albert. The address is 10 Rue Delattre, 80560 Auchonvillers.
Access and costs: quite easy to reach only by car; relatively fairly priced.
Details: Unless you’re on a guided tour by coach, you need your own vehicle (or bike); there’s no public transport available here.
The “Ocean Villas” (also spelled without the -s at the end) guest house and adjacent museum can easily be reached by driving the D50 route north of Albert and turning off to the west on to the B73, past the Beaumont-Hamel Memorial Park and into Auchonvillers. The guest house/tea room is actually the first village building on your left. There’s a sufficiently large car park right in front.
The museum is just across the street and has the following opening times: daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; admission 5 EUR (children and senior citizens 3 EUR).
The trenches are freely accessible from the guest house (but access may be denied in adverse weather, when it gets too slippery), theoretically at any time, but a reasonable hour during the day should be best, especially if you’re only a drop-in visitor, not staying at the guest house. You can also ask to be allowed to see the historic cellar.
If you want to stay here, overnight accommodation is possible in one of the four guest rooms or four apartments (sleeping up to six); prices per person/night range from ca. 30 EUR (shared apartment) to 130 EUR (single occupancy family room). Evening meals are 15-20 EUR. For contact details check: avrilwilliams.eu
The guest house and tea room are an informal family business and the owner, Avril Williams, is quite a character. There are also cats, dogs, chickens and sheep (so not so good for allergy-sufferers!). Home cooking
, especially the breakfast, is very English, in a good way (!), so Brits in particular can feel quite at home here. There’s also a bar with draft beer (Belgian!) and wine by the glass. I’d say it’s probably the ideal place to base yourself at for exploring the Somme
, unless you absolutely require a full-service hotel with all the amenities (in which case look at the town of Albert
instead), or if you can make do with basic camping.
The museum won’t take most people long, unless you are really into such war relics and want to inspect every little detail. I spent less than 20 minutes in there. The trenches behind the guest house likewise won’t need much time, just a few minutes, similarly viewing the various artefacts on display inside the guest house. But it’s a nice place to relax and have a drink or snack or, if you’re staying there overnight, for a nice evening meal with other guests and your host. If you want to use “Ocean Villas” as your base for exploring the Somme
book at least two nights, better three or four.
Combinations with other dark destinations: Auchonvillers doesn’t offer anything else except a small-to-medium sized war cemetery to the west of the village, within easy walking distance from the “Ocean Villas” guest house.
At a push the nearest major WW1
-related site, Beaumont-Hamel
, would also be walkable, as it’s only a mile (1.6 km) from the guest house. For everything else you’ll definitely need your own means of transport (unless you’re on a tour, that is, which the guest house can also arrange).
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Other than the “Ocean Villas” guest house and tea room Auchonvillers doesn’t have anything of tourist interest, and the environs, while in part picturesque, are also anything but touristy other than in terms of WW1
But see under France
- Auchonvillers 01 - private museum
- Auchonvillers 02 - decades of collecting
- Auchonvillers 03 - vehicles too
- Auchonvillers 04 - fuel
- Auchonvillers 05 - dummy
- Auchonvillers 06 - WW1 relics
- Auchonvillers 07 - shells
- Auchonvillers 08 - helmets
- Auchonvillers 09 - gas mask
- Auchonvillers 10 - various personal items
- Auchonvillers 11 - also bits from a later period
- Auchonvillers 12 - grinning Nazi dummy
- Auchonvillers 13 - US jeep
- Auchonvillers 14 - concentration camp inmate
- Auchonvillers 15 - linguistically educational aspects
- Auchonvillers 16 - trench reconstructions
- Auchonvillers 17 - Ocean Villa
- Auchonvillers 18 - collective restoration efforts
- Auchonvillers 19 - trench in the back garden
- Auchonvillers 20 - with sheep