WWI - 100 Years Later, Lest We Forget
Most of the WWI battlefields are off the beaten track but well worth a visit. It is possible to see bunkers, forts, trenches, tunnels and even artifacts one of the museums. They all provide a touch point to the events 100 years ago. What is more difficult to imagine is true cost of war. Most of the battlefields have reverted back to farmland though the cemeteries and memorials bear witness to the 1000's upon 1000's who were killed.
Perhaps it is the scale of the battlefields that are most telling. The trenches of the Western Front ran from the English Channel all the way to the Swiss border. Along the way there were a few key points where most of the fighting took place. When you visit the battlefields it is becomes a lot easier to appreciate the sacrifices that were made, the absolute hell the soldiers must have experienced on both sides and a deep appreciation and pride for the role Canadians played in expediting the war's end.
Here are some photos we took of a few places as they recently looked.
Perhaps the most iconic Canadian monuments is the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.
The memorial is located on the highest point of Vimy Ridge. At the base of the hill you can still find a number of preserved Canadian trenches and bunkers.
Preserved trenches are rare. More typically, the remaining trenches are simply depressions in the ground under overgrown forests or some other remnants of twisted metal and barbed wire. It is common to find signs warning of unexploded shells and stern instructions not to wander off the marked paths.
There are also a number of overgrown concrete bunkers all over the place that are unmarked. If you look closely, they are possible to find.
Further south along the French lines, France had a number of forts where concentrated fighting took place. The Fort de Vaux near Verdun is one of those places. It is possible to visit the interior of the fort were some of the nastiest hand to hand fighting took place.
A testament to the fighting is the massive French cemetery and Douaumont ossuary. The ossuary remains open for business. Bones that are still being found in the battlefields are interned in the ossuary.
Tunneling under the enemy lies to place and detonate explosives was a key tactic used by both sides during the war. To get a sense of how large some of these craters are, I included a photo of the Lochnagar Crater below. I am in the photo on the opposite side for scale. The crater measures 330 ft wide and 100 ft deep. It was created when two mines containing roughly 50,000 lbs of explosives detonated beneath the German trenches on July 01, 1916 vapourizing all of the German soldiers in the trenches above.
The Tyne Cot Cemetery (below) contains 12,000 Commonwealth war graves including 966 Canadian soldiers while the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres lists the names of 6983 Canadian soldiers whos bodies were never found.