The Great War 1914-1918: Memorials

by Maritravel

Thousands died in battle in the Great War, their bodies left lying in fields in France and Belgium. The Memorials listed below are their Testament and how we remember them.

The year 2014, as we all know by now, is the Anniversary of the opening of the First World War, the war which devastated Europe in the last century. It ended in 1918 so that allows four years in which to make visits, pilgrimages if you like, to some of the most famous battlefields over which men from thirty different countries fought.

There are villages and towns with which many people may feel a connection through association with a family member, and in some of these can be found small memorials alongside the usual plaques bearing the names of those fallen in battle. This list is by no means definitive.

Visit Flanders

MONS, Belgium

The Battle of Mons has a resonance, especially with people in the UK, partly because the battle took place in the opening weeks of the war and the British suffered major losses here and partly because of the myth of the Angel of Mons which, according to the legend, protected the soldiers from the advancing enemy.

There are many Memorials dotted about the areas surrounding the town of Mons including a Memorial on the spot where the first shot of the war was fired First shot in the war fired by a British soldier was fired hereand a plaque on the opposite side of the road where the last shot was fired.  There are plaques in the Grand Place of Mons and plaques on bridges, railway crossings and at Obourg Station.
Obourg, Mons 

Probably the most beautiful cemetery in Belgium is the Saint-Symphorien outide Mons, a place that invites reflection and meditation.  A peaceful spot in Saint Symphorien CemeteryIn a quiet spot surrounded by fields and trees lie the majority of those killed during the Battle of Mons. 

The largest number of graves are those of the 4th Middlesex Regiment and those who died liberating the city in November 1918.  It is unlike the upright row upon row of white stones one finds on most battlefield cemeteries.  Here the graves are on many levels, in groups curved round a grassy sward, or down a track to a hidden copse. It is also a place of reconciliation as there are two areas, one devoted to German graves and one to British graves.  

The image below shows two white headstones one behind the other, the one in the foreground dating from 1914 and one behind it and to the left dated 1918.  It couldn't be more poignant.

Two Graves in close proximity, 1914 and 1918

  The new Mons Memorial Museum is due to open in 1915 and I am sure this will be a place that all visitors will want to visit.  I have seen the advance publicity for this and I am very impressed.

South African National Memorial & Museum – Lonqueval

This Memorial and Mueum are at the heart of Delville Wood and they are a magnificent homage to the South African soldiers who fought here, most notably in July 1916 when the 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade comprising 121 officers and 3032 other ranks, fought for six days against units of the 4th German Army Corps.  Massively outnumbered they fought until, at the end of a six day massacre of young men, only two officers and 140 other ranks walked out of the woods unscathed.  The woods, Bois d’Elville, have remained the burial ground of those others who fell there but nothing remains of the former dense wood except a single hornbeam.

This beautiful building is remarkable for the engraved glass window depicting Delville Wood after the battle, and the set of bronze panels depicting South Africa’s involvement in the two world wars and the war in Korea, but the panel before which you find most people standing in silence shows a group of soldiers leaving Delville Wood after six days of hell.  It is a monument not just to heroism but to a loss of innocence.

5, route de Ginchy, 80360 Longueval.

Tel:  + 33 (0) 3 22 85 02 17

 New Zealand Memorial – Lonqueval

 Still in the same area, the New Zealand Memorial commemorates 125 New Zealanders buried here and 1205 men from the N.Z. Division who were killed during the 1916 Battle of the Somme and whose bodies have never been recovered.  Their names are written on a wall of 11 panels.


Poziers – Lonqueval

An encircling plan assigned to Australian troops (most of whom had come to France from Gallipoli) to capture Pozières and Thiepval Ridge was carried out between July and September 1916, but not before the Australians had lost more than a third of their men.  The name Pozières echoes in Australian memory and it has even been adopted by a village in Queensland.

The Brooding Soldier
The Brooding Soldier
Visit Flanders

Thiepval – Somme

The largest British war memorial in the world.   Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, it is 45 metres high and its stone pillars contain the names of 72,205 missing soldiers who were declared missing in the Somme between July 1915 and March 1918, nearly 90% of whom were killed during the Battle of the Somme.

Thiepval was a significant position during the Battle of the Somme as the Germans, in the village on the heights, dominated the French who were below in the valley.  Mobile warfare became static and massive trench networks came into being.  The date of the major Somme offensive was 1st July when 100,000 soldiers carrying 30kg of supplies went over the top to be cut down by machine-gun fire.  In probably the worst day of any war for casualties, the British alone had 60,000 casualties.  Thiepval was finally captured on the 27th September 1916.

The Ulster Tower – Somme

One man in four in the 36th Ulster Division was a casualty on 1st July 1916 when they went into battle in their sector of the front which stretched from the edge of Thiepval Wood to the village of Hamel.

The Memorial now stands at the place where the Ulstermen fought and died.  The Ulster Tower, a mock Gothic style tower, is a replica of Helen’s Tower from the Clandeboyne Estate in Bangor, Co. Down, N. Ireland where the Royal Irish Fusiliers, Inniskillin Fusilliers, and Royal Irish Rifles trained.  There were 9 Victoria Crosses awarded to the 36th Ulster Division.

Route de Saint-Pierre-Divion, 80300 Thiepval

Tel: 33 (0) 3 22 74 81 11

Hill 62

 Beaumont-Hamel - Somme

One of the most striking Memorials is that to the 29th Divisiion to which the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel, a very moving experience because of the remarkably well preserved network of trenches covering 30 hectares.  The Memorial stands at the entrance to the park, a bronze statue of a caribou, emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and designed by sculptor Gotto.  The memorial looks towards the German lines and gives a panoramic view of the trench system.  There are 3 bronze plaques at the base of the Memorial commemorating 820 men from the regiment, the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve and the Mercantile Marine whose bodies have never been found or identified.

 Newfoundland raised an army of volunteers to fight in the Great War and their battle took place at Beaumont-Hamel on the Somme.  On the 1st July at 9 a.m. the men left their trenches and were immediately trapped under German machine-gun fire: half an hour later only 68 were unscathed, making this one of the bloodiest actions of the war in which this small band of men suffered one of the highest casualty rates.

80300 Beaumont-Hamel

Tel:  + 33 () 3 22 76 70 86


Upright White Marble Tombstones
Upright White Marble Tombstones
Mari Nicholson

At Villers-Bretonneux is the National Australian Museum at which the Anzac Day Dawn Service is held every 25th April at 5.30 a.m. a moment of intense emotion for any who attends it.  The Somme Tourist Board organizes shuttle buses for the ceremony, leaving from Amiens station.

Le Hamel has another Australian Memorial composed of 3 curved walls clad in green granite.  This commemorates the participation of the Australian corps in the successful Battle of Hamel on 4th July 1918.  80800 Le Hamel, Corbie Bocage 3 Vallées Tourist Office, 28-30 place de la Republique.      Tel:  + 33 (0)3 22 96 95 76: 

There is a Memorial to a corp of Chinese labourers in Noyelles-sur-Mer.  The first contingent of labourers reached France in April 1917 and by the Armistice there were 96,000 employed in constructing military infrastructures.   Eighty thousand were still employed in clearing the devastated areas of France and Belgium in May 1919.  Eight hundred and forty-one men are buried here, most of whom died of illness.

Cantigny holds the American Memorial to the Battle of Cantigny of 28th - 31st May 1918, the first major offensive of the war.  It helped contain the Germans and raised Allied morale, but the Americns suffered 1,000 casualties during this battle with 199 killed.

There were nearly one million American soldiers in France during this period.  The Memorial is of a fighting member of the American services standing on top of a plinth, a testament to the bravery of the 1st American Division Memorial and the 28th Infantry Regiment at Cantigny.

Pays de Parmentier Tourist Office, 6 place du Général de Gaulle – 80500 Montdidier.  Tel: 33(0)3 2 78 90 00.

Tyne Cot Cemetery


Mametz:  The Welsh Dragon:   Mametz is a name that resounds down though history as the place where the German resistance blocked all Allied progress in a north-easterly direction.  The Welsh 38th Division captured Mametz Wood on the 12th July after eight days of fierce fighting which came just after the Somme slaughter on July 1st.  The Memorial is the emblem of Wales, a red dragon, which, with wings outspread carries pieces of barbed wire in its claws, testifying to the nature of the battle.

Poppy Country Tourist Office, 9 rue Gambwtta – 80300 Albert.  Tel: +33(0)3 22 75 16 1642. 


Misty Morning in France

Not a Memorial, nor a Museum, but a quiet place for reflection and mediatation is the house in which Britain's greatest war poet, Wilfrid Owen, wrote his last letter home to his mother.  The Maison Forestiere  stands as both a homage to the poet and as a venue for poetry. Maison Forestiere in its Original State The illustration shown here is the house in its original state, not as it now appears.

The roof has been remade to represent an open book and animated projections of texts by Owen are beamed on to the interior walls,the texts projected in both French and English.  A ramp leads down to the cellar where Owen wrote his last letter home, and this remains untouched, the only original part of the building preserved exactly as it was 100 years ago.

On the Banks of the Sambre-Oise Canal

Owen died at Ors on  November 4th 1918 as he was leading his group across the Sambre-Oise canal.  He was 25 years old.  On Armistice day, seven days later, as the church bells were ringing out, his parents received the fateful telegram.

Owen is buried in the cemetery at Ors and there is a plaque nearby to his honour.

Maison Forestiere Wilfrid Owen, Bois Leveque, RD959 59360 ORS

Open April – November, Wednesday to Saturday 2 pm. – 6 pm.

First Sunday of the month from 3 pm – 6 pm.

Tel:  +33 (0)3 27 84 10 94    

There are more Memorials in France and Belgium than one could cover in an article such as this.  Most readers are familiar with name such as Ypres, Mons, Tyne Cot and the Menim Gate and of course there are Monuments and Memorials scattered all around these areas.  The tourist offices in the battlefield areas have full details, maps and guidebook to the most interesting, so it is a good idea to call at one of these – some of which are attached to small Museums – to get further information.

Updated: 10/03/2015, Maritravel
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