Vimy Memorial – 17/5/2016

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign”

Robert Louis Stevenson

Britain governs Canada, so when England went to war, Canada was one of the Commonwealth countries that fought alongside them. Many Canadians joined so they wouldn’t miss out on the action. The soldiers that lived in the trenches had to suffer through the mud, cold rats, lice, fleas and many other obstacles. There was a narrow strip of land in between the British and German trenches that was called no man’s land which was made of mud, barbed wire, and shell craters created by machine gun fire. The soldiers had to cross no man’s land when they launched an attack and a lot of them would die or get injured.

On April the ninth, 1917 at 5.30 am the Battle at Vimy Ridge began.  The first line of 15 000 – 20 000 of Canadian soldiers attacked the Germans facing wind, snow and machine gun fire and with many casualties.  By noon a lot of the ridge had been captured and by the 10th of April, hill 145 (where the memorial now stands) was taken.  There was a huge cost at securing Vimy Ridge with over 6000 injured and over 3500 dead of the Canadian Soldiers.

We visited the Canadian WW1 Memorial at Vimy Ridge and did a guided tour with one of the Canadian University Students through an underground tunnel and the restored WW1 trenches. The student was really good and told us lots about the trenches and tunnels.  The underground tunnels were used so the soldiers could plant explosives under the German’s front line and when they exploded then the Allied soldiers would advance into no mans land and try to take over the Germans front line.  The land around the site still has huge crater holes left over from WW1.  We walked through some of the trenches, I can’t imagine having to live in that tiny space in the cold and rain.

At the Vimy Ridge Memorial they have rebuilt the trenches with concrete duckboards and cement filled sandbags for the walls.  It does give you an idea as to the cramped conditions and how close they were to the German front-lines, in some places a stones throw away.

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A German machine gun pillbox, where the Germans could fire out of the opening but also be protected from return fire. 

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The Canadians worked on many underground tunnels or subways the one we toured was part of a 0.8 ‘Grange Tunnel’.  The purpose of the tunnels was either to get the soldiers safely to the front-line or for the allies lay explosives under the German’s front-line.

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Some of the Crater holes around Vimy

Tourist Information for Vimy Ridge

Opening Hours

  • 1st April – 30th September: Tuesday to Sunday – 10 am to 6 pm, Monday – 12 pm – 6 pm
  • 1st October – 31st December: Tuesday to Sunday – 9 am to 5 pm, Monday – 11 am to 5 pm

Cost

Entrance and Guided tour by a student is free

Official Website: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/overseas/first-world-war/france/vimy/visit

Written and researched by Ava.  Photos by mum.

Musee Somme 1916 – 17/5/2016

The Somme Museum is located in Albert, in the heart of the Somme battlefields.  The town itself suffered considerable damage during WW1, including the large bascillica near the museum, which had to be rebuilt.

The Somme Museum is housed in old WW1 tunnels, that were converted in 1938 as air raid shelters for WW2.  To get to the tunnels 10 m below ground, you will descend about 60 steps to reach the long gallery which houses scenes of what life was like in the trenches during WW1.  The 15 different scenes in the museum show scenes of living and resting in the trenches and what medical care was like there, from both the Allied and German side.  It is a very cool museum, especially for kids to help them visualise the difficult living conditions of the trenches.  As you leave the tunnels there is a sound and light display to give you the experience of night bombing. 

They also have a fantastic souvenir shop with poppy products, French, German and British coins from the WW1 time period, military objects (bayonets, bomb shells, helmets, badges etc) as well as the usual magnets and key rings. 

A very good museum for the whole family, I would highly recommend it.  

Visitor Information for the Musee Somme

Opening Hours

  • Open from January – 23rd to Mid December
  • Operating hours 9 am – 6 pm, 7 days a week

Costs: 

Individual Museum Entrance:

  • Adult – €6.50
  • Child (Under 18) – €4
  • Child (Under 6) – free

Groups of 10 or more people for Museum Entrance:

  • Adult – €5.50 (for every 25 people one adult is free)
  • Children (under 18) – €3.40 (for every 10 children, one is free)
  • Children under 6 – free
  • For groups at a cost of €50 you can get a guided tour and weaponry demonstration.

Museum and 2 1/2 hour guided battlefields tour of your choice in a minibus within an area of 30 km from Albert, price is per person

  • Cost: 1 person – €148, 2 people – €81, 3 people – €58, 4 people – €47,  5 people – €40, 6 people – €36, 7 people – €32

A tailor made package can be arranged through the museum, for between 1 – 6 hrs

Official Website:  http://www.musee-somme-1916.eu/index.php?lang=en

George Edmund Wilkins (Somme) – 18/5/2016

One of the reasons we came to the Somme, apart from the WW1 history, was to find the grave of Andrew’s great grandfather and the children’s great, great grandfather, (George Edmund Wilkins) who had died during the war.  This was actually our second attempt to find the grave, we tried in 2002 and were unsuccessful, this time with the internet I found the exact location before going there.  I did discover that there are two different Vadencourt’s with different spellings and that is why we didn’t find it the first time.  

George Edmund Wilkins is buried in the Vadencourt British Cemetery, near Maissemy, surrounded by farmland in a very peaceful, rural location.  In most cases during WW1, they buried the dead near where they died, as was the case with George, who is buried beside fellow fallen soldiers of the Gloucestershire Regiment. It was actually a very moving experience, both Ava and I felt a bit teary to think that a family member, so young, lost his life here while protecting his country.

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The Vadencourt British Cemetery, near Maissemy

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George’s Grave

Max had researched his great, great grandfather for a history project a few years ago, so I have included his work below, along with photos and some of the postcards that George wrote during WW1.

My Great, Great Grandfather George

My Great, great grandfather George was born in 1889 at the millhouse at Lower Slaughter.  George was the youngest of the family.  George went to school in Belmore House in Cheltenham’s Bath Road until he was 14, then he went into the family business.  When George was in his early twenties he married Mable Blanche Stayte.

George Wilkins taken at Bourton on the Water(2) (599x800)

When the Great War started George was very patriotic, so he made a decision that would change his life forever.  On the 20th of November he enlisted in the army.  George was part of the 2/5th Gloucester Regiment.  In April of 1915 the regiment was moved to Chelmsford where they spent about a year in training. 

Photo on the left is of George with his parents and possibly siblings and nephew.  Photo on the right is George in uniform.

George on the far right (800x497)

George is the furthermost on the right.

George is in the middle row, second from the left.  It is a postcard with a letter on the back that he sent to his wife Mable, while based in Chelmsford.

Other postcards sent by George during 1915 from Chelmsford to his wife Mable.

George’s battalion landed in France on the 23rd of May, 1916, just a few months after his only son, George William Wilkins was born. By August 1915, the battalion became part of the 184th Brigade, 61st division.  George’s 61st division, along with Australia’s 5th division fought alongside each other on the attack on Fromelles.  The attack did not go well and although George survived over 1500 men from the 61st division and 5500 from the Australian division died.  The 61st division spent several days burying the dead, no Germans fired on them during this time.  By the end of October George’s battalion had moved to the Somme in the trenches for the brutal winter.  A surprise attack on the Germans by George’s battalion on the 7th of April 1917 was a successful mission, but many people from the 2/5th Gloucester Regiment died, including George, aged 26.

George’s wife, Mable received a telegram telling her the news.  

Written jointly by Max and Karen
photos courtesy of Christine Deeley, George Edmund Wilkin’s granddaughter 

Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Park Memorial – 18/6/2016

Need to read the information for Introduction, Newfoundland Goes to War, Battle of Beaumont-Hamel, Sacrifice and Legacy at the following website

The first of July is known to many people as Canada Day but Canada Day is a serious day to Newfoundland and Labrador. There is a day that is made as Memorial day because it is the anniversary of people fighting on Beaumont-Hamel in WW1. Newfoundland was not part of Canada but a part of Britain. Newfoundland also fought in the war like Canada did because as soon as Britain started the war with Germany Newfoundland was apart of it. Newfoundland’s population was 240 000, but 12 000 went away to join the army. Since 1914 resolved in trench battles the Newfoundlanders and the other soldiers fought on even though there was barbed wire, snipers, grenades, mines, machine guns firing rapidly and sickness.

Tourist Information for Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Park Memorial

Opening Hours

  • 1st January – 31st of March – Tuesday – Sunday open 9 am to 5 pm, Monday open 11 am to 5 pm
  • 1st April – 30th September: Tuesday – Sunday open 10 am to 6 pm, Monday open 12 pm to 6 pm.
  • 1st October to 31st December: Tuesday – Sunday open 9 am to 5 pm, Monday open 11 am to 5 pm.

Cost:

Entrance is free

Official Website: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/overseas/first-world-war/france/beaumonthamel

 

Ocean Villa Tea Room – 18/5/2016

The Ocean Villa Tea Room is located in a small town called Auchonvillers in the Somme, in northwestern France.  English speaking troops would refer to the town Auchonvillers, as ‘ocean villas.’ When the tea room owner, Avril Williams first bought the abandoned farmhouse in 1992 and turned it into a tea room she called it Ocean Villas after the British.

After our visit to the Newfoundland Park memorial Beaumont Hamel we visited the Ocean Villa Tea Rooms for a light lunch.  I have to say this place is amazing.  We ate in the outdoor area, set up like an English pub.  The gardens were nice and there was even a couple of ducks waddling around.

While waiting for lunch we visited the trenches. The trenches were built by the French in 1914 for communication and used while the Beaumont Hamel trenches were established.  When the British took over this area of the trenches from the French in July 1915, they strengthened the walls and used bricks from the former house to use on the floor.  The trenches were once again used in 1918 by a New Zealand Division.  During 1997 a history group discovered the trenches and gathered enough interest that by 1998 a specialist team arrived to further investigate.  Artifacts that were found in the trenches are now housed in the tea room.  Since 1999 the trenches have required constant maintenance so that tourists can visit.

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It is amazing to think that in somebodies backyard are trenches and they look like photographs I’ve seen of WW1 trenches.  It had been raining a lot prior to and since our arrival in France, so the trenches actually had quite a bit of water in the bottom, giving you a bit on an idea of what the appalling living conditions would have been like during WW1 for the soldiers.  We all really enjoyed looking at the trenches.  Inside the tearoom are the different artifacts from the trench as well as photos and other WW1 objects. 

Trench

Farmers and locals in the Somme area, even today are still finding bullets and other objects from WW1, some very clever person decided to use these and make key rings and other souvenirs with them.  The tearoom sells these type of souvenirs, which our eldest loved and got himself a bullet key-ring in anticipation of getting a car when he goes home to Australia at the end of the year. 

Although we did not visit it, (because we didn’t realise it was there) in the building beside the tearoom is the Auchonvillers Museum, it houses WW1 and WW2 memorabilia that had been collected over many years by collector André Coillot.  Avril purchased the entire collection and its now housed in the museum.

The trenches and artifacts at the tearoom are great and well worth a visit, the lunches were good and the staff friendly and accommodating. The tearooms also have a guesthouse offering accommodation.

Tourist Information on Avril Williams guesthouse (Formerly Ocean Villa Tea Rooms)

Tearooms – Are open 7 days a week, from 9 am – 5 pm and serve cakes, teas, snacks, meals and other beverages including draft beers.

Auchonvillers Museum – The museum is open 10 am to 4 pm.  Cost: adults – €5, childen 10 – 16 years – €4, under 10 – free, senior citizens – €3, groups of over 20 people – €4

Accommodation costs: The Guesthouse has seven rooms en-suite rooms available and the prices are listed on a per night basis that includes an English breakfast:

  • Single room – €60 per night
  • Twin room – €90
  • Family room (sleeps 3) – €110
  • Family room (sleeps 4) – €130
  • Apartment (sleeps 6) – €90 – for two people and €15 for each additional person
  • Group rate is offered for groups with over 15 people, for prices you need to contact them.

Evening Meals – If staying at the guesthouse you can get a three course meal and wine for between €15 – €20

Official Website: http://avrilwilliams.eu/

Lochnager Crater – 18/5/2016

The Lochnager crater and Memorial site is located on the 1916 Somme battlefields, to the south of the village of La Boisselle.

Lochnager Crater

Lochnager mine cater was made on the Somme war fields in France in WW1. It is the biggest man-made mine crater on the WW1 battlefields. The mine was laid by the British army’s Tunnelling Company Royal Engineers under a German stronghold called ‘Schwaben Hoeh”. On the morning of the 1st of July 1916 at 7:28, the mine exploded and it launched the British offensive against the German lines.

The attack started that morning with 12 British battalions with about 700 men involved in the attack. Ignoring the fact that the mine had been blown up that day, the German soldiers still managed to fire successfully at the British soldiers who were quickly advancing, withinn half an hour hundreds were either dead or injured. 

Lochnager Mine Crater Memorial

An Englishman, Richard Dunning, purchased the land containing the crater from a farmer for an undisclosed sum, on the 1st of July 1978.  Prior to Richard’s purchase the crater was used as a dumping ground for rubbish and only a few people a year visited.  The land was purchased to preserve it and so people could visit and remember those who not only died on the 1st of July 1916 but all men and women from around the world that were affected by the Great War.  Today around 200 000 people visit the site each year.

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Lochnager Crater is the result of a mine explosion in 1916 at 7.28 am

The Cross

The cross is made from wooden beams that were taken from a broken down church near Durham, in England and placed at the crater in 1986. Many of the British soldiers killed on the 1st of July attack came from areas near where the wood for the cross came from.

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Visitor Information for Lochnager Mine Crater Memorial:

Opening Hours: It is open during the daylight hours

Cost: Free to enter

Official Website: http://www.lochnagarcrater.org/

Reims Cathedral – 20/5/2016

Reims Cathedral otherwise known as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Reims, is located in the city of Reims on the Vesle River.  Reims has been recognised as the cathedral of coronations having been the site of 25 coronations, from Louis VIII in 1223 to Charles X in 1825, only two kings were not crowned, here Louis VI and Henri IV.  Joan of Arc was actually present during the coronation of Charles VII in 1429.

Construction of the Church

The first cathedral was actually built to the east of the current one in the middle of the third century, called the Church of the Holy Apostles.  The first cathedral built in the current location wasn’t until the end of the 5th century.  By the 9th century it was decided to rebuild the cathedral to be suitable for hosting the coronation of the king and it becomes known as the cathedral of coronations from 1027 on. Unfortunately in 1210 fire ravaged the cathedral and rebuilding began in 1211.  Yet another fire in 1481 destroyed part of the roof and this required restoration work.  Since then the cathedral has suffered damage from a hurricane in 1712, looting in the revolution and German bombing in 1914.

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We decided to do an adults only day trip, combining Reims Cathedral and the surrounding champagne areas, while the kids caught up on school work.  Our first stop was to the cathedral before a relaxing lunch in Reims.  Reims cathedral suffered greatly through WW1, in early 1914 German shells hit the cathedral catching the roof on fire.  As you walk around the exterior of the church, you can actually still see the holes made from more than 200 shells that hit the cathedral during WW1, which fascinated my husband.

One of the best things about this cathedral aesthetically speaking is the stained glass.  There are still some windows with stained glass from the 13th century, like the large roses in the north and west of the cathedral and a few of the high windows.  In contrast to the 13th century windows are the contemporary ones created since 1937.  The modern windows range from classic stained glass created by Jacques Simon in 1937 to more abstract ones created by artists Marc Chagall in 1974 and Imi Knoebel in 2008.  The windows alone make this cathedral worth a visit. 

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DSCF8849 (656x800)Tourist Information for Reims Cathedral

Opening Hours

  • The cathedral is open daily from 7.30 am and closes at 7.30 pm – Monday – Saturday and 7.15 pm on Sundays and holidays 
  • 25th December and 1st of January the cathedral is open 9 am – 12.30 pm/2.30 pm – 7.15 pm
  • Last entrance is 15 minutes prior to closing

Cost

The entrance to the cathedral is free

Official Website: http://www.cathedrale-reims.com/

 

Written by Karen

Updated January 2008

Castellane Champagne – 20/5/2016

This was our second visit to the Champagne region, we came here in 2002, when there was just two children.  There are many different Champagne places that you can tour and taste champagne depending on your tastes.  Andrew organised our trip and found a place where we could do an English speaking tour and tasting, without having to book in advance.  So we headed off to Castellane Champagne.

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The Castellane Champagne house is located in Epernay in the Champagne region, it was started by Viscount Florens de Castellane, in 1895.  Prior to your guided tour you can climb the tower which has posters through the decades advertising the champagne and visit the museum with equipment that was previously used in the champagne process. Your guided tour takes you down through part of the 6 km of chalk cellars.  Our guide gave a thorough explanation of the bottling methods and how they have changed from when first brewed by the monks to present day. 

The day we visited the bottling process had finished so the process was explained to us, as was how they get the different levels of sweetness in demi-sec and brut champagnes.  Following the tour you get to sample the Castellane Brut, which was very nice, but I’m still attached to my prosecco at the moment.

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A small portion of the champagne stored in the tunnels.

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From our visit in 2002

Tourist Information for Castellane Champagne

Tour Times: 

  • Tours operate from the 12th March until the 23rd of December
  • Guided tours are between 10 am – 11 am/2 pm – 5 pm
  • You need to contact them to get times and days that English tours are run.  Contact Details: Phone +33 3 266 51 19 11 or email visites@castellane.com 

Cost:

Guided tours start at €14 per person and includes a glass of Castellane Brut

Official Website:  http://www.castellane.com/en/

Written by Karen

Updated January 2018

Overview of Normandy Attractions

Normandy is a beautiful area in France filled with WW2 sites, chateau’s, oysters and seafood and museums.  We spent three weeks in Brittany and Normandy and enjoyed the attractions we visited.  It can be a little overwhelming as there are just so many WW2 museums and sites available to visit, it would be very difficult to see them all.  I have included links to the attractions we saw and some we didn’t get to.

Attractions we visited:

Mont St Michel – This is one of my favourite places in France.  We have a blog on this on our website so rather than restate all the information click on the here.

Bayeux Tapestry – The tapestry is housed in the Bayeux Museum and depicts the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  Click here to read more on it.

Normandy American Cemetery – Cemetery for the American soldiers from WW2.  Click here to read the information on it. 

Sainte-Mere Eglise – Small town that was the first in France to be liberated after the D-Day landings and famous for John Steele’s lucky escape. Click here to read information on it.

Point du Hoc – To read about how the army rangers led by Lt. Col. James E Rudder captured Point du Hoc from the Germans click on the link here

Other Attractions we didn’t see:

Caen Memorial – An extensive museum of WW2 as well as the battle that took place at Caen.  It also offers tours of some of the D-Day landing sites.  The official website with information on memorial can be found by clicking on the link here.

Azeville Battery – Tour an original German battery with an audio guide (French, English, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish) which goes 350 m underground.  There is also a film.  This WW2 site is not heavily visited but those who do, think very highly of it.  To find out more information click here.

The Utah Beach D-Day Museum – Built on the beachfront where the American troops landed during D-Day and covers the planning and execution of the D-day landing through oral accounts, objects and vehicles.  The museum has very positive feedback.  To learn more click here.

 

Sainte-Mere Eglise – 23/5/2016

First two will be easier to read

http://en.normandie-tourisme.fr/sainte-mere-eglise-565-2.html

http://www.airborne-museum.org/en/at-the-heart-of-history/portraits/john-m-steele/

http://d-dayrevisited.co.uk/d-day/sainte-mere-eglise.html

 

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Church in the Town of Sainte-Mere Eglise

DSCF8826 (575x800)Model of John Steele whose parachute tangled in the church steep on June 6th 1944.

Written and Researched by Ava, photos by mum