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10 free experiences you won’t want to miss in Ypres and the Somme

Dec 19, 2019


An eye-opening visit to the First World War battlefields of France and Belgium brings a poignant reality to the stories that have intrigued the world since the 1910s.

Learning about the sacrifices many soldiers had to make, and the conditions they had to endure, is now more accessible than ever. So we’ve rounded up 10 must-see places to visit within Ypres and the Somme which are (mostly) free!

 


1. Yorkshire Trench and Dugout

Discovered in 1992 using a metal detector, the Yorkshire Trenches truly exhibit the horrors of war and allow visitors a brief insight into the reality of a soldier’s life – including the smells!

Hidden away in an unlikely location is a poignant reminder of the insufferable conditions soldiers had to endure during WW1.

Set within a modern industrial site, the trenches are emotional yet educational, with information panels to read at your leisure.

  • Free
  • Limited parking available
  • Visit time: 30 minutes – 1 hour

 

2. Saint Julien Memorial – ‘The Brooding Soldier’

This powerful monument symbolises the loss of Canadian soldiers during the first gas attacks of WW1. Without a single gas mask available, the soldiers fought back using only wet handkerchiefs for protection.

The Brooding Soldier allows visitors a moment of peaceful reflection and carries an emotional presence within a quiet oasis.

Top tip: Take the time to read and contribute to the comments book during your visit.

  • Free
  • Limited parking available
  • Visit time: 10 – 30 minutes

 

3. Mametz Memorial

A magnificent Welsh dragon sits in an elevated position, looking out over the German trenches within Mametz wood. The approach to this memorial is off the beaten track, but the houses lining the roads are still to this day adorned with Welsh flags to commemorate the soldiers who gave their lives.

Be sure to take in the sights of the wreaths and read the stories of individual soldiers. Some visitors claim to have seen fragments of shell and shrapnel around the area!

Good to know: This monument is accessible via a steep staircase consisting of around 28 steps.

  • Free
  • Parking available
  • Visit time: 30 minutes – 1 hour

 

4. Arras Memorial

Many people visit the Arras Memorial with a relative in mind whose name they hope to find on the never-ending wall of over 34,000 names.

The names are to remember the men whose bodies were never found in the aftermath of battle.

Having been described as ‘atmospheric’, the Arras Memorial is beautifully maintained and a fitting tribute to fallen comrades.

  • Free
  • Parking available
  • Visit time: 1 – 2 hours

 

5. Carriére Wellington (Wellington Quarry & Tunnels)

Although not exactly free, the Carriére Wellington is the perfect affordable follow-on visit from the Arras Memorial. Take the spine-tingling journey through a network of tunnels, with an added touch of wearing a WW1 style helmet.

A series of video presentations, interactive learning and a multilingual guide will give teachers and students an engaging learning experience.

Don’t forget: Your coat! It’s around 11° in the tunnel so wrap up warm.

  • Small charge for entry
  • Parking available
  • Visit time: 1 – 2 hours

 

6. Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery and Visitor Centre

With audio snippets, written diaries, a photo wall and a headstone locator, the visitor centre at Lijssenthoek offers an immersive journey into the finer details of personal war experiences.

Buried here, among 10,000 men, is one woman named Nellie Spindler. Originally from Wakefield in Yorkshire, Nellie, a staff nurse, left the UK in 1915 to join the front line in Belgium. Here, your students will learn about her story and how she died saving lives.

Make sure you see: The daily calendar telling stories of specific headstones.

  • Free
  • Parking available
  • Visit time: 1 – 2 hours

 

7. Poperinge Death Cells

 

Stark reality and the ruthlessness of war hits when you visit the Poperinge Death Cells. This is where many men spent their final nights before being wrongfully executed for being so-called ‘deserters’.

You’ll be able to take in the carvings on the cell walls made by prisoners, and a haunting video clip of a soldier’s last hours.

Also see: The military cemetery, only a 15 minute walk away.

  • Free
  • Parking available
  • Visit time: 15 – 30 minutes

 

8. Langemark Cemetery

This is the burial place of over 44,000 soldiers; many placed in mass graves with no personal headstone. You can listen to recordings of soldiers talking about their war-time experiences, and see the remains of real German bunkers.

Extra fact: Adolf Hitler visited this cemetery during the Second World War.

  • Free
  • Parking available
  • Visit time: 1 – 2 hours

 

9. Tyne Cot Cemetery

Often compared with Langemark Cemetery for its vast differences, Tyne Cot is a Commonwealth cemetery where 11,900 people who served the British Empire are buried.

Tyne Cot Cemetery is immaculately presented, with several guided tours per day for teachers and students. The visitor centre offers an audio and visual experience, with a speaker system playing aloud the names of over 34,000 missing soldiers.

  • Free
  • Parking available
  • Visit time: 1 – 2 hours

 

10. Beaumont-Hamel

Beaumont-Hamel is home to the Newfoundland Memorial Park, a peaceful yet sombre experience, where visitors recognise the bravery of those who fought here.

Untouched since 1918, the trenches of both sides are still very visible, and has often been described as emotional, sensitive and perfectly maintained.

Whilst you’re there: Why not take look inside the visitor centre during your visit?

  • Free
  • Parking available
  • Visit time: 1 – 2 hours

 

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