For a one-day trip or as part of a two- or three-day tour, both Vimy Ridge and Arras provide an active and engaging background to WW1 studies, and an visceral insight into life in the trenches.
The Vimy Ridge National Historic Site of Canada is home to the spectacular white marble memorial to the 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France whose final resting place was then unknown.
Occupied by the Germans in WW1, Vimy Ridge was an intrinsic part of their defence system. The Canadian Corps, with the British 5th Division, began digging a network of tunnels into the chalk bedrock of the ridge.
This ensured their offensive on 9th April 1917 was a success, with the ridge being taken by the Allies. It proved a decisive turning-point in the war.
Constructed on the vantage point of Hill 145, the memorial towers 30 metres over the surrounding countryside and is visible for miles around. It’s many motifs include Sympathy of the Canadians for the Helpless, The Defenders and The Breaking of the Sword, representing the desire for peace, Canada’s sympathy for the weak and oppressed, and the ideals for which Canadians gave their their lives during the war.
At the memorial’s base, the Spirit of Sacrifice depicts a dying soldier gazing upward in a crucifixion-like pose who, in a lightly veiled reference to the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, passes a torch to a comrade in an effort to keep alive the memory of the war dead. The Vimy Ridge National Historic Site of Canada is an inspired expression of Canada’s salute to her fallen sons.
As well as the magnificent monument and excellent visitor centre, our visit includes a guided tour of the complex of tunnels and underground chambers, massive shell-holes, and a series of restored German trenches and surrounding the memorial.
The picturesque cathedral town of Arras, famous for its tapestries in the Middle Ages, was almost completely destroyed in WW1 but has been stylishly reconstructed with arcaded squares and restored mansions in the Flemish style.
We visit the town’s extensive underground caverns in the underlying chalk.
Used by the townsfolk from the Middle Ages onwards, these were enlarged by tunnellers during WW1 and proved ideal for billeting troops and storing supplies.
The town also has a large war cemetery and memorial, designed by famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, with columns and panels commemorating some 35,000 missing British, South African and New Zealand soldiers and airmen. There is also a wall to commemorate 200 Resistance fighters who were executed by firing squad in WW2.