A century later, the French countryside remains impacted by the devastation of World War I. While sites are somber, it’s important to remember those who have fallen for the path to peace. Next year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Great War, which the French will commemorate with a variety of events. If you are interested in the history of World War I, we recommend travel next year while France prepares for the anniversary. An in-depth tour can take travelers to some of the museums, monuments and memorials dedicated to WWI.
Below are some suggested locations where you will find sites of World War I historical significance.
Stop one from Paris: Compiègne
In Compiègne, visit the Armistice Museum which has a French Cannon out front along with an FT17 Tank. The remains of the Armistice Wagon, the wagon the Armistice was signed, can be found here after its long destructive history. The museum also boasts images from infantrymen and items used during the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
Pictured above is the Château de Compiègne, a royal residence remodelled by Napoleon I as a surprise for his wife, Marie-Louise. The Château has a vast collection of items from World War I, including a replica of Marshall Foch's car and an image series of a soldier's life in the trenches.
Stop two: Somme
The Battle of Somme in 1916 was the first great offensive of World War I. The British lost 58,000 troops, a third of its troops at the time, the first day of the Battle. Ultimately, 1.5 million Australian, German, French and South African men lost their lives in the Battle. The Battlefields now serve as a memorial along with the Lochnagar Mine Crater that exploded the first day of the Battle, and Thiepval memorial which is dedicated to missing soldiers.
Stop three: Arras
The Battle of Aras was a major offensive by the British Army. To not arouse suspicion, New Zealand miners created tunnels under Arras so the French could take the Germans by surprise. Visit the limestone tunnels at the Memorial to the Battle of Arras: Wellington Tunnels to see where over 20,000 troops hid. The Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery is also a solemn reminder of the tragedy that took place with nearly 36,000 graves from the Battle.
Stop four: Verdun
After nearly a year of fighting, the Battle of Verdun was one the costliest battles of war ever. There were over a million casualties from both sides that devastated the region. The Verdun Battlefield is a moving experience that is well maintained and enlightening. On site sits Fort Douaumont, Bayonet Trench and the Verdun Memorial. Of the 9 small villages destroyed in the area, you can wander through what is left of the village of Fleury. Inhabitants, mostly farmers, had to abandon their homes and the risk of explosions prevented the rebuilding of the villages. We recommend spending a full day on the Verdun Battlefield, as there is much to see and learn.
A bit outside of Verdun is the site of one of the most significant battles involving Americans, which helped bring an end to the War. In 3 hours before the attack, more ammunition was fired than the two sides managed to fire throughout the four years of the American Civil War. The cost ended up being one million dollars per minute. Meuse-Argonne ended up being one of the deadliest battles in US history, but sadly, much forgotten. The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial serves as a great reminder of those that lost their lives during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive which must be visited if you plan on staying in Verdun.