An Ideal WW1 Battlefield Tour Itinerary
Most coach tour operators buy their battlefield tours through BAWTA tour wholesalers, who all offer excellent packages covering the major areas of the WW1 conflict. Most provide experienced guides, which is vital to get the most out of the tour and some operators’ drivers have become so knowledgeable on the WW1 history and the monuments, cemeteries and battlefields that they have become associates of The Guild of Battlefield Guides, such as Derek Frisby from Shaws Coaches of Maxey.
As there are so many tour permutations; duration and destinations I asked Major Frank Baldwin military historian and member of The Guild of Battlefield Guides to recommend a tour itinerary that covers the main WW1 locations. It is by no means comprehensive as there is far too much to see in one visit. For example, it does not coverer the Battles of Mons, Verdun or Marne but still serves as a perfect taster.
Five day/four night trip to Flanders and the Somme
DAY ONE: TRAVEL TO FLANDERS via, Dunkirk, Sangatte or Calais
Briefing en route and orientation visit at hotel in Ieper or Lille
DAY TWO : THE YPRES SALIENT
09.00 Visit Passchendaele Museum, Zonennebeke to understand the equipment and nature of the fighting, includes a visit to the reconstructed trenches and bunkers.
11.00 The Battle of Gheluveldt. Hear the story of the 1914 fighting which formed the salient and walk in the footsteps of the men whose bayonet charge saved the British army on 31st October 1914.
11.30 Visit Hill 60, the most fought place on earth. See where four Victoria Crosses were won on a patch of ground the size of a football pitch. See where men fought underground and where the allies detonated huge mines under the German Lines.
12.30 Picnic Lunch Hill 60 rest area or in local café .
13.30 Essex Farm Dressing Station. See how Britain treated its causalities, the wounded and the dead. See where John McCrae wrote his poem “In Flanders Fields” and hear about the story of the Poppy.
14.30 Harry Patch Memoria,l Langemarck. See where Britain’s last Tommy fought in the 3rd Battle of Ypres 1917. En route hear about the plans for this battle and the stories of the Irish and Welsh.
15.00 German Cemetery, Langemarck. Visit the German cemetery which was fought over in the battles between 1915-17 and hear the story of how Germans treated the Great War and why the legend of Langemarck.
15.30 Visit the Canadian Memorial at Vancouver Corner.
16.00 Tyne Cot Interpretation Centre and Cemetery. The largest British war cemetery on mainland Europe where 11,956 soldiers are buried many unidentified.
17.00 In Flanders Fields Museum. This newly refurbished museum located in The Cloth Hall on the main square in Ieper tells the story of The Great War in Flanders. Visit St George’s Memorial Church. Time to explore Ieper.
20.00 Menin Gate. Witness the a local bugler’s playing of The Last Post at exactly 20.00 in the most famous Commonwealth war memorial in Flanders.
20.30 Enjoy the many cafes and bars in Ypres.
DAY THREE: THE SOMME
This day starts with the story of the 1916 Battle of the Somme. This is considered Great Britain’s worst battle of WW1 because of the horrific losses, just fewer than 60,000 casualties of which 20,000 were killed or died of their wounds. Stay at a hotel at Arras, Peronne or Albert.
09.30 Thiepval Memorial and Interpretation Centre. The memorial was built on the site of one of the key German strong points on the British sector of the Somme. It commemorates the Anglo-French forces as has a memorial to the 74,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died on the 1916-17 battlefields and have no known grave.
11.00 Serre - The Story of The Pals Battalions. Hear about the tragic attacks on Serre in July 1916 and November 1916.
12.00 Beaumont Hamel Battlefield and Newfoundland Regiment Visitor Centre. At this site, on the first day of the battle, 91% of this Canadian regiment was wiped out with the loss of 26 officers and 658 men.
13.00 Picnic lunch at Ulster Tower. Hear the story of the Ulster Division and visit archaeological excavations of the trenches of Thiepval Wood.
14.30 La Boiselle. Wonder at the amount of explosive used to create the Lochnagar Crater and reflect on Tunnelling and Mine warfare. See some of the work being undertaken to research and preserve the stories of the men who served there.
15.00 Delville Wood. On 14th July 1916 3,000 South African soldiers occupied ”Devils Wood” and six nights and five days later 130 men walked out. This was one of the climactic events of the Somme.
16.00 Pozieres. This village was a key point in the German second line. It was captured by the Australians in August 1916 and was the start line for the first ever attack by tanks – the battle was one of the bloodiest in the history of the world.
17.30 Return to hotel.
DAY FOUR: ARRAS AND CAMBRAI
10.00 Vimy: Commemorative Monument of Canada. Briefing on the battle of Vimy Ridge and explore the preserved trenches and visit the Canadian Memorial and visitor centre.
11.30 Wellington Quarries, Arras. Visit the underground tunnels and learn about the Battle of Arras.
12.30 Lunch in Arras with free time to enjoy a city that was virtually destroyed in WW1 and subsequently rebuilt to the exact previous historic architecture.
14.30 Doignes-Louveral Military Cemetery and Cambrai Memorial. Learn about the first mass use of tanks in WW1. Visit the museum in Flesquieries and Deborah the Great War tank recovered from the Battle of Cambrai.
17.30 Return to hotel.
DAY FIVE: 1918 AND THE SOMME
10.00 Walter Tull and The Somme. In 1918 the Germans made a desperate attempt to win the war before the industrial might and population of the USA could be brought to bear on the Western Front. There is time for reflection on a site close to where Walter Tull, footballer and officer was killed in March 1918.
11.00 Peronne Museum - Historial de la Grande Guerre. This outstanding collection of artefacts about the Great War gives the visitor a wider perspective of the conflict.
13.00 Riqueval Bridge. The tour is finished at the site where the British Army along side Australian, US and French troops, broke the Hindenberg line and the will of the German army to resist. In turn, this led to the German call for an armistice.
14.00 Return to Channel port and UK.
Clearly this itinerary can be shortened, or for that matter, extended for it is obvious from all the all WW1 related sites in France and Belgium that one tour could not cover them all.
Please see the website of The Guild of Battlefield Guides for a list of their members: Their aim is to strive to analyse, develop and raise the understanding and the practice of battlefield guiding to provide an environment to meet fellow guides and share information, expertise and knowledge on a wide range of issues.
And see www.baldwinbattlefieldtours.com