Where to Find France's Most Important WWI Memorials

Verdun, France
Verdun, France |  © SofiLayla/Pixabay
Alex Ledsom

The year 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. There are lots of ways that you can commemorate the lives of those who died for their respective countries – and one of them is visiting the war memorials in France.

1. Mémorial de Verdun

Memorial

Verdun, France | © OliverKepka/Pixabay
© OliverKepka / Pixabay

The battle of Verdun is the battle remembered by France with the heaviest of hearts. Waged near the small city in northeastern France, the French army fought the Germans in the longest battle of World War 1. It was fought between February and December 1916, with terrible casualties on both sides. More than 305,000 people were killed or missing, and approximately 400,000 were wounded. The vast amount of casualties here and the sheer scope of the fight meant that Verdun became forever cast in people’s minds as the best representation of the futility of the Great War. Fighting continued around Verdun until 1918. The memorial building is set out on three floors, where visitors can take the trail through the war: the ground floor focuses on the soldiers’ experiences; the second floor covers the background of the war and the countries involved; and finally, the battlefield can be seen from the top floor.

2. Mémorial de Thiepval

Memorial

Thiepval WWI Memorial in France
© Joris1944 / Pixabay

The Thiepval Memorial is the largest British war memorial in the world, coming in at 45 metres high and designed by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. The British government gave the go-ahead for its construction in 1932, in order to commemorate the 72,205 British and South African men who died or never came back from fighting between July 1915 and March 1918 in the Somme region of France. The battle to take Thiepval in 1916 was a major disaster for the British army.

3. Villers–Bretonneux Australian National Memorial

Memorial

Australian war memorial | © Alex Ledsom
 © Alex Ledsom

On a little road near the town of Amiens, deep in the French countryside, sits the Australian War Memorial to the men who died in World War I. It’s an impressive place – with two imposing monuments at the bottom and a large tower to climb at the top. You can read the lists of 10,773 men who were killed between 1916 (when Australian forces arrived to join the British and the French) and 1918. The memorial sits close to the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux (that took place on 24–27 April 1918), in which the Australians played a major part. The monument suffered heavily from gunfire during World War II, and has been left in that state in some parts to commemorate the lives lost.

4. Mémorial Sud-Africain de Delville Wood

Memorial

South African War Memorial at Delville Wood | © Clemens Vasters/Flickr
 © Clemens Vasters/Flickr

The South African memorial sits in Delville Wood cemetery and bears the name of 14,000 soldiers who died fighting for their country. Some of the fighting took place in the woods, where the cemetery now stands; 121 officers and 3032 men entered the woods in July 1916 to fight for five days and nights, and only 142 men came out of the woods completely unscathed (780 eventually survived). It was decided to replant the woods (whose trees had been ravaged) and to include the war memorial inside them. It was only white South African soldiers who were buried at Delville; black soldiers weren’t allowed to carry arms and had to work digging trenches on the Front Lines or moving munitions etc. More than 21,000 black soldiers died in the Somme. The museum was inaugurated in 1986 during Apartheid and didn’t commemorate their lives. In recent years, the South African government has transformed the site into a place that also pays homage to the black troops who died serving their country.

5. Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial

Memorial

The bronze caribou at Beaumont-Hamel, France
© Kurtis Gardner_ / Flickr

Like many other Commonwealth countries during World War I, Newfoundland raised a volunteer army to help fight. After serving in the Gallipoli campaign, they joined the Western Front for the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st, 1916. Of 801 soldiers who found themselves facing heavy machine gun fire that day, only 68 went on to fight on day two. The memorial is set across 74 acres to commemorate those who lost their lives on the hills at Beaumont-Hamel. At its centre is a giant bronze caribou, the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

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