Britain has a rich military history that spans the globe, though it’s arguably fair to suggest that no period in British history is more sombering than that of the world wars. With travel to Europe so readily and cheaply available, visiting areas of battle prominence is incredibly easy.
This allows tourists to make a pilgrimage of remembrance, to pay respects, visit areas that hold personal family significance and to absorb the atmosphere and realism of the locations. Below are some of the most enlightening and well-known battlefield tours in France and Belgium. With incredibly low fares on ferry crossings to both countries, these excursions are easily accessible and superbly memorable.
The battle of the Somme was a battle fought by British and French forces against a German offensive in World War 1. Taking part on both sides of the River Somme, the battle lasted months and is considered to be one of the largest and most dramatic points of the First World War. Some 1,000,000 men lost their lives or sustained injuries during this battle, making the area one of the most moving and memorable for a battlefield tour.
Exploring the rugged location of the battle area and meandering through the cemeteries, a tour of the Somme evokes an abundance of emotion and reflection. The battle followed the greatest advance of allied forces into German-occupied territory and the battle caused German forces locally to withdrawn, making the Somme one of the war’s most effective battles.
The Ypres Salient is located in the Belgium town of Ypres and refers to a battlefield area that extends into the territory of the enemy and is surrounded on three sides. The German army was prevented from capturing the town in November 1914, leading to the creation of the Ypres Salient.
The German military skill made use of the higher ground and led the enemy to a military advantage. The ancient town is rich in stunning architecture and quaint stores, making it difficult to imagine the horror and devastation that the area once suffered. The battles in Ypres amounted to casualties in the hundreds of thousands and there are over one hundred military burial grounds in Ypres.
The German and French armies met at the battle of Verdun in between Feb and Dec 1916 on the hills of the south-eastern French town. The Germans intended to use their position to evoke counter-attacks from the French. The Germans had assumed that the French would be preoccupied with maintaining their locational hold, however the strength and munition capabilities of the Anglo-French side surprised the enemy significantly.
Verdun was devastated through the fighting and conditions for the soldiers were especially hostile. With poor weather and ruined ground, Verdun is considered to be one of the most treacherous battle grounds of the war. In present times, the area is a much greener and welcoming place, with a host of inexpensive hotels. There are memorials both indoors and outside and the area is a quiet and unimposing place for reflection.
The ideal way to mark the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 is to visit the area and with direct ferries from Dover to Dunkirk, travel is especially simple. Crossing the Channel will inevitably evoke thoughts of the small boats that were called to aid the emergency on the French coast, with British fisherman being amongst those to make the journey to save troops.
Rescuing soldiers who had become surrounded by German troops in the Battle of France, civilians and regiments swarmed the area to recover as many men as possible. Nearly 8,000 men were rescued in the first day of the evacuation.
It is believed that for every 7 men saved at Dunkirk, one remained as a prisoner of war.
Such grim realities cannot be avoided on the evoking tours of these heart-wrenching locations. The somewhat grey and dismal port is reminiscent of the vivid emotion of the area. This is also an ideal starting point for a tour of the battlefields.