The French town in the Somme region of northern France
Most historical records and War Memorials tell of the ending of the Great War in 1918. The official conclusion of the hostilities actually ended in 1919 after the formal signing of the Versailles Treaty on 28 June of that year. This took place on the south eastern corner of Paris. This was simply the legal agreement between the Allies and Germany to end the violence that ceased on 11 November at 11am the previous year. A celebrated War memorial in the City of Cambridge in England, and the monument within the Supreme Court in London both record the ending year as 1919 to recognise the treaty. 2019 marks the official centenary of the ending of WW1.
Interested visitors can locate the town of Albert on the southern edge of the Somme region in northern France. It is home to a spectacular and continuously living and changing museum that reminds all people of the horrors and destruction of life on both sides during the furious battle of the Somme in 1916. Hunt down the Somme 1916 Trench Museum. The exhibition is rather special as visitors can take a thoughtful observation as they pass all that is displayed inside. A number of newly discovered articles that continue to appear on the agricultural farmland of Northern France after ploughing still turn up occasionally even today. The museum was established recently in 2014 and is continuously updated.
The museum is widespread and exhibits are shown in cases along tunnelled streets that run under the streets. The quality of the display is in usual sophisticated French style. The dark but subtly lit passages seem to represent the fear felt in the trenches and the terrifying atmosphere that soldiers on both sides had to endure for so many long years. The tunnels are a little cold and serve as a reminder of the cost of our freedom from a century ago.
Even now in our present day, some small quarters of the Somme region are still closed to public access due to rusty and unstable explosives that continue to emerge from the ground. Human remains and military identity documents appear from the fields occasionally. The horrific and unmarked remnants from more than 100 years ago are always taken for appropriate Christian disposal.
The numerous museum displays tell much for the visitor about the realities of the Great War in France. There are many recovered and now safely secured explosives, cartridges, shell cases and grenades. There are food containers still showing details of their contents. Some of them are apparently still edible. There are rusty weapons and firepower from both sides exhibited and labelled. There are the sometimes quite complete remains of military equipment such as binoculars and the debris of uniform materials displaying original regiment badges and rank markings. All finds are recovered and still preserved permanently to this day.
The museum also contains contemporary representations of trench military posts with realistic dummy soldiers operating communication and detection equipment to feature a very realistic idea of the life that had to be endured so long ago. The created soldiers all glare through the highly protective and tight peep holes, just below the ground surface, that then was their only means of survival for perhaps a few more hours or a few more days depended on. They were all such young men with their dreams and all now so long gone.
There are numerous original photographs taken exactly at the period of the trench fighting to bring the awful realty of life at that time to the attention of the visitor.
The Somme Museum in Albert also presents moving film from the Great War period now modified to fit in with modern technology. Soldiers are seen from the trenches trudging across quagmire and destructed countryside to their next little piece of Hell on earth. Collect your paper 3D spectacles as you go in. Watch the introductory film to commence your visit. The video show will transform any fixed and personal impressions of 1914-19.
There are other sites commemorating WW1 in the Somme region to visit if you choose to be there. Locate Vimy Ridge fairly close to Albert. Look at the remaining traces of the war trenches. Nature is gradually taking over as they have become slowly filled in by the landscape. But it is here though that soldiers hid and fought for survival from both sides over 100 years ago. My Grand Father was a gunner for the British Artillery and served at Vimy Ridge during that war. He survived the combat but returned home to East Anglia with permanent injuries after all had ended. The sight of what remains of the trenches will concentrate your attention and focus on First World War battles around 1916.
The Canadian forces contributed much to the security of French territory at this time. A vast memorial to their lives and sacrifice stands close to Vimy Ridge as a permanent reminder of their identities. Walk up the steps and review their names. All of those who died during the Battle of the Somme are carved in stone for eternity.
Go to the town of Arras in the Picardy area as well. This was a major centre of WW1 operations at the time. Visit the crude underground tunnels at the Wellington Memorial that had been cut out of the solid ground so far below. Thousands of Allied troops lived in them for such a long period prior to conducting a not too successful raid on enemy trenches along the Eastern Front. The war attempt on victory was relentless for both sides during the Great War.
The village of Fromelles is in the region as well. A diversion battle was conducted by Australian troops from here to disguise attention from the forthcoming Somme battle. It failed almost completely and the enemy forces buried the Allied dead in the surrounding fields as quickly as they could to prevent the spread of disease. Some of their remains are still emerging resulting from local agricultural activity even in our 21st century days.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission secures the eternity of veterans with honour as they are found. Visit the contemporary museum in Fromelles that records the Australian contribution. Perhaps meet members of their Australian ancestors who continue to visit the battle ground to this day. Memories last almost for ever.
Harry Patch, the British soldier, who fought in the trenches in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 was the absolute last survivor of the Great War. He passed away so recently. He died apparently on November 11 in 2011 at 11.00 hours at the age of 111. A little bit of poetic licence perhaps, but he remained mentally in touch with his background and recollections to the moment of his death. He took with him to his grave the last human consciousness of the terrible experience that so many soldiers had from their so often brief lives in the appalling conditions of the trench warfare that occurred in the last century.