The Somme and Vimy Ridge

In the Somme region of northern France, between 1914 and 1918, there were many fierce battles, as well as constant attrition – between British and other Allied troops and the well-established German forces.  The worst day ever in British military history was 1July 1916, when the opening day of the Battle of the Somme resulted in some  60,000 British casualties – and the battle was to continue until November of that year.

Our tour visits a selection of the places shown below, scenes of the stories about small tracts of land being gained, lost and regained, with colossal loss of life.

We are happy to take you to specific grave-sites and memorials upon request, and to design an itinerary based around the sites you would most like to see.

Our Somme tour sometimes visits Vimy Ridge also – see next page.  Sites are here in alphabetical order.

Albert

The charming town of Albert was close to the British front line.  Its beautiful basilica, topped by a golden statue of the Virgin and Child, achieved fame when the statue was shelled on 15th January 1915 and left hanging, head down – becoming an iconic image of a tragic war.

The statue was finally toppled in 1918 but is now splendidly restored.

The town’s Somme 1916 museum, atmospherically housed in wartime tunnels,  provides an excellent and engaging insight into the Battle of the Somme – a real eye-opener.

Auchonvillers

‘Ocean Villas’ was close to the British front line at Beaumont Hamel and was completely levelled by shelling in the Great War.

A restored British trench and a cellar, used as a first aid post by soldiers, are open to adult visitors, together with a museum. Intriguingly, original graffiti made by soldiers remains to this day – offering a rare insight into the mindset of day to day life in the trenches from a unique angle.

Delville Wood

This magnificent South African memorial commemorates the battle of 14 to 16 July 1916 when many men of the South African Brigade were massacred when fighting in vain for the wood.

Delville Wood Cemetery is opposite, containing over 5,000 graves – some 3,500 of which are unidentified. It also commemorates the men of the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force who died during World War I.

Unlike other memorials, the Delville Wood Memorial has no names inscribed on it.

Lochnagar Crater

Caused by the explosion on 1 July 1916 of the largest of 9 British mines exploded along the German Front,  this enormous crater is the only one remaining.

The mine contained 60,000 lbs of explosive planted in underground tunnels.

The crater spans 300ft (91 metres) with a depth of 70ft (21 metres), and remains the largest crater ever made by man in anger. Today, it is surmounted by a wooden cross memorial.

Longueval

The village of Longueval sustained heavy damage during the battles of the Somme.

Today, a distinctive Pipers’ Memorial commemorates the pipers of all British, Dominion and Allied regiments of WW1 who lost their lives in leading their troops into battle.

Nearby are also the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing, the Gloucestershire Regiment memorial and Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, one of the largest on the Somme.

Mametz Wood

20 miles northeast of Amiens, Mametz Wood was the scene of fierce fighting in the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

The site is now overlooked by the distinctive dragon memorial to the 38th Welsh Division.

It is accessible on foot after some five minutes’ walk from the coach.

Newfoundland Memorial Park

Dedicated to the Canadian Newfoundland Regiment, this park remains largely untouched from the days of the Great War, with trench lines and shell-holes to be explored.

Tragically, the Newfoundland Regiment lost 70% of their men in the first half-hour of the Battle of the Somme on 1July 1916.

With the Danger Tree, cemeteries and memorials including the famous Newfoundland Caribou, and a fascinating visitor centre, there’s a lot to see – particularly for anyone with a family connection to Canada.

Pozières

This village was the scene of heavy fighting between 1916 and 1918.  It was taken, lost and retaken by British, Australian and South African troops a number of times.

The Memorial to the Missing and the Military Cemetery record some 14,644 names. The Tank Corps Memorial is also here, reminding us of the first use of tanks in 1916 and the major impact they made in 1918.

Thiepval

Thiepval is marked by its magnificent Memorial to the Missing of the Somme Battles.  Designed by famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, it commemorates the names of 72,104 men who died between 1916 and 1917 and have no known graves.

There is also a cemetery with graves of 600 British and French unknown soldiers.

An excellent visitor centre tells the story of what took place at Thiepval, giving clear background to the war and to the Somme battles.

Ulster Tower (also known as Helen’s Tower)

The Ulster Tower is a memorial to the men of the 36th (Ulster Division).  It is a replica of Helen’s Tower in County Down, Northern Ireland, where the regiment had trained.

It is near the site of the German Schwaben Redoubt which the Division attacked on 1 July 1916.

In spite of fighting bravely, the Ulstermen were forced back as the Germans counter-attacked, suffering casualties of over 5,000 on that day alone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *