WW1 Revisited

Archives

On this day in 2009 Great War veteran Harry Patch died aged an incredible 111 years. Often referred to as the ‘Last Fighting Tommy’, Harry Patch had served in Flanders with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. He was the last surviving British soldier to have served in the trenches of the Western Front when he died and his face and voice have come to… Read More

As the summer moves on, the rolling chalk downland fields of the Somme are filled with corn; blowing gently in the breeze as larks sing in the sky above. Here and there are scattered the small soldier’s cemeteries of the Somme battlefields; comrades cemeteries of men who fought and died together, now buried together. They mark the passage of conflict over this ground a century ago and their quiet majesty continues to… Read More

By the close of the Great War France had lost nearly 1.4 million dead and just as in Britain across the country every village, town and city was keen to erect a war memorial to those who had died for France. The memorials vary greatly from lists in a frame on the wall of a church to impressive statues of French Poilu defying the enemy, or a fallen soldier draped in the… Read More

Today is the 97th Anniversary of the Battle of Arras, in some respects one of the forgotten battles of the Great War. Despite the huge amount of publications on Ypres and the Somme, in recent years only Jon Nicholl’s Cheerful Sacrifice, Peter Barton’s & Jeremy Banning’s Arras 1917 and my own Walking Arras have been published on this short but bloody battle. I blogged about this for the University of Oxford WW1 Centenary site last year… Read More

” A ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth!” C.E.W. Bean The Pozières Ridge was the scene of heavy fighting between July and September 1916 when Australian, British and later Canadian troops pushed the Germans back over what was the highest point on the 1916 Somme battlefields. On the nearby Pozières Windmill, which sites on the Ridge, an inscription reads: “The ruin of Pozières windmill which lies… Read More

Standing like some of neolithic monument with the backdrop of an autumn sunset, this concrete British Observation Post bunker is one of two located on the road between the villages of Auchonvillers and Mesnil on the Somme. They were built before the Battle of the Somme to allow Staff Officers a clear view towards the front lines at Beaumont-Hamel and Thiepval and were in use when the battle started on 1st July 1916…. Read More

The landscape of Flanders around the city of Ypres was covered with the remains of trenches when the war ended in 1918 but as the civilian population returned and reclaimed their land, gradually they disappeared. Original trenches can only be seen in a few locations around Ypres now but for new generations coming to the battlefields it is often hard to equate muddy ditches or shallow holes with what was once here…. Read More

Les Crapouillots was a satirical magazine during the Great War and also the name given to the Trench Mortar branch of the French Army by the Poilus in the trenches. This memorial in the village of Laffaux in the battlefields between Soissons and the Chemin des Dames commemorates 12,000 men of the unit who died on the Western Front. Constructed in the 1930s it was badly damaged in May 1940 during the… Read More

The village of Sommepy in the Champagne battlefields was behind the German front line for most of the war until the ruins of it were taken by American troops from the American Expeditionary Force in September 1918. This archway, which was once part of the entrance to a large chateau, is the only remaining structure from the pre-1914 days still standing in the village. It is peppered with shell impact marks and… Read More

The Voie Sacrée, or the ‘Sacred Way’, was a road running from Bar le Duc, a major railhead behind the front, and the forward battle zone at Verdun. In 1916 it was realised that the defence of Verdun by the French Army rested on its ability to resupply the front with men, ammunition, food and equipment. The road ran for 72km and operated night and day with thousands of men and vehicles moving up… Read More

Located within the St Mihiel American Cemetery is an imposing stone statue of an American ‘Doughboy‘ – in fact an American officer dressed in the uniform worn by US troops here in 1918. The text on the memorial reads: Blessed are they that have the home longing for they shall go home. The memorial was placed in the cemetery by Harriet Beale, whose son Walker Beale is interred here. 1st Lieutenant Walker Blaine Beale served… Read More

There are a large number of German First World War cemeteries in the Vosges area of the Western Front, many of them containing original features or even contemporary headstones. The cemetery at Illfurth, located on a hillside amongst the woods above the town, was a cemetery started by the Germans when this ground was part of Germany in 1914. At that time the men buried here would have been interred on what… Read More

The sight of front-line barbed wire remains a powerful image of the Great War. In the early stage of the war the use of so-called ‘Chevaux de Frise‘ (or knife-rests as they were known by the British) enabled soldiers to prepare barbed wire defences behind the lines and bring them up, putting them in place at night. Being portable they could also be moved. Few survive intact but this section is part of… Read More

The Western Front ran for more 450 miles from the Belgian coast to the Swiss Border. At the Belgian end the trenches petered out in the sand dunes near to the Belgian town of Nieuport. Soldier-author Charles Douie fought in the area with the 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment in 1917 and left this description of the sector: Nieuport was not greatly different from other towns lying in the near vicinity of the… Read More

Small French battlefield cemeteries are rarer than the British ones on the Western Front as most battlefield cemeteries were concentrated into larger burial grounds in the 1920s. This small battlefield cemetery is close to the village of Chavannes les Grands in the Vosges and commemorates men from a French regiment who fought here in August 1914. Buried here are Lieutenant Paul Genairon and his comrades of the 260th Regiment of Infantry. On… Read More