By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny

 

 

The Australian Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux

Near and distant in the same time, WW1still is a vivid memory for most European families who still remember the young men gone to fight on a distant front. For the one-hundredth anniversary of WW1’s end special commemorations will take place in France and Belgium on 11 November 2018.

 

Australian troops in Somme tranchees

Altogether 73,3 millions men were mobilized, of which 9,7 millions died or were declared missing. One billion shells were fired in the course of the conflict. It is believed that 15% f these shells didn’t go off and still pollute grounds and waters. Over 7,5 millions acres of land (mostly in France), were declared unfit to agriculture due to shells, bullets or even deceased humans or animals. Earth and people still bear the scars of this war. One hundred years later we will be able to honour the memory of all these soldiers

 

WW1 cemetery in France

Thiepval Memorial

July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, has been the worst day in British military history. By the end of that terrible day the battle had cost 60,000 British soldiers including 20,000 killed. When the battle was called off in November 1916 the British Army suffered 420,000 casualties. The Thiepval Memorial was unveiled in 1932 and commemorates 72,000 British and South-African forces reported missing in the Somme throughout the conflict. Thiepval Memorial is the largest war memorial in the world and a new museum dedicated to the history and remembrance of the Battle of the Somme has been built in Thiepval village.

 

Ruined Villers-Bretonneux in August 1918

War Animal Memorial at Pozières

This unique memorial dedicated to the countless horses, dogs, ponies, pigeons as well as more exotic animals such as elephants, camels, bulls or canaries, that took an active role during WW1, was unveiled in July 2017. It is estimated that around 9 millions animals from all sides died during this war. If horses were in the thick of battle at the beginning of the conflict their vulnerability to modern machine gun and artillery fire reduced their utility on the battlefield. Thereafter they were mainly used for logistical support. Dogs and pigeons saved thousands of lives by delivering crucial information when the communication lines were down.

 

Cher Ami, the pigeon who saved 200 men

“Cher Ami” was an American pigeon that helped save many lives on 4 October 1918. The 77th American Infantry Division was trapped at the foot of a small hill close to the enemy lines. The men also took heavy fire from their own allies firing on the close by German positions. The two first pigeons sent for help were shot down. “Cher Ami” was the last pigeon of the “Lost Battalion”. The men watched him fall down, wounded by German bullets. But this brave bird wounded in the head, chest and paw, was able to fly away and delivered his message covering 25 miles in only 25 min. The regiment’s surgeons took care of him and he not only survived but also was awarded the Military Cross.

Animals were both war heroes and devoted comrades-in-arms. These faithful mascots helped build the moral of the troops. “Winnipeg” is one of the most famous ones. He was a black bear from Canada and remained with his unit for several months. He later lived in London Zoo where he made a great impression on A.A. Milne inspiring him to write “Winnie the Pooh”.

 

The Australian Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux

Beaumont-Hamel Memorial

The Newfoundland Memorial of Beaumont-Hamel is a remarkable site where a well preserved trench system gives visitors a realistic idea of day-to-day life on the battlefield. The site is overlooked by a big statue of a caribou set on a small headland from where you can get a panoramic view of the area. On Remembrance Day a special ceremony will take place at 10:30 am to honour the 1st Canadian Newfoundland regiment and to all who died during the conflict.

 

French war cemetery in Rancourt

Verdun battlefield site

The Douaumont National Necropolis and Ossuary pays tribute to 130,000 French and German unidentified soldiers (out of 300,000) who died during this terrible battle from February till December 1916. It also is a symbol of reconciliation between France and Germany. Close by, the legendary Tranchée des baïonnettes” (the trench of bayonets) is a moving testimony of the battle. A small part of a trench has been used to bury the remains of numerous French soldiers and their guns were stuck upright in the ground to indicate the place.

 

The Australian Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux

Remembrance Walk

From 7 to 11 November 2018 a Remembrance Walk will take visitors from Albert to Ypres in Belgium (25 km each day). Hundred of thousands of British soldiers passed under the Ypres gate before getting to the front. Ypres also is the place where the first gas attack in history happened. This year Ypres organizes special commemoration events from 8 till 11 November. “The Great War Remembered” is a concert set up by the “Last Post Association” and takes place on November 9th in St Martin Cathedral. The show combines music, songs and images of the war. On Sunday 11 November many ceremonies will take place in Ypres. At 6 am a Lone Piper will play Battle’s O’er under the Ypres’ gate, it will be followed by a mass, a Poppy Parade, several concerts and a special edition of the “Last Post” at 8 pm at the Menin Gate.

 

An unknown soldier’s grave

“Flowers for Peace”

From Thursday 8 to Sunday 11 November 2018 everyone going to visit one of these historical sites is invited to put a flower on a soldier’s grave in one of the many military cemeteries or at a war memorial.

Related article: http://b-c-ing-u.com/2017/10/05/33377/

More information about these events and many others:

http://www.somme-battlefields.com/

http://www.meusetourism.com/en/1914-18-centenary/the-first-world-war-in-meuse.html

http://www.toerismeieper.be/en

Text ©Annick Dournes

Photos ©Frederic de Poligny and courtesy Somme Tourisme

 

 

British red Poppy and French blue Corn Flower side by side