There is no other date like the 1st July 1916 in British collective memory. It is known as the worst day in British military history; nearly 60,000 men were killed, injured or reported missing within just a few hours. It represents both a test of British strength and a most futile tragedy. Today, through the men that fought here, the name of each village of the Somme is linked to a town or region of Britain. While the southern end of the trail concerns the French sector, the northern end takes into account the British battles.
Particular focus must be given to a special type of battlefield visit: the cemetery visits, which see families making their way to a descendant’s grave. From the end of the 1920s, the cemeteries received more visitors than the battlefields themselves. In recent times, the First World War, long eclipsed by the Second, has seen a new burst of interest. This phenomenon, which often sees the third generation taking an interest in family history, has led to an increasing number of people visiting the cemeteries. Each cemetery, regardless of its nationality, provides an indication of how these men lived and died: through its location, composition, the classic or unusual inscriptions it displays, and its history. They pay testimony to the attempts made by the various societies to cope with death on such a large scale, which, even today, we still cannot fully comprehend.
The 14 German, 19 French and 410 Commonwealth cemeteries of the Somme are easily identifiable:
The German cemeteries, maintained by the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, can be identified by their black crosses, in cast-iron or stone, often placed in large parks planted with trees. The Volksbund was first created in 1919 with the aim of identifying, preserving and maintaining German graves located in foreign countries. The organisation helps find the graves of German soldiers, particularly through its website: http://www.volksbund.de
The French cemeteries are characterised by their white crosses and flagpoles that fly the French flag. These cemeteries, which always contain a mass grave or ‘ossuary’, are maintained by the services of the Ministry of Defence. The records of the French soldiers who ‘Died for France’ can be searched on this website: http://www.memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.gouv.fr/
Numerous Commonwealth cemeteries can be found along the old front line as authorities decided to bury the men as close as possible to where they had died. Unlike the French and German cemeteries, few large, concentrated cemeteries were constructed for the Commonwealth servicemen. When the cemetery contains more than 40 burials, a Cross of Sacrifice is included alongside the graves; when there are more than 1000, this is joined by a Stone of Remembrance. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was created in 1917 and takes care of Commonwealth cemeteries across the world: http://www.cwgc.org/
The Remembrance Trail
A trail of remembrance links the emblematic sites of remembrance, commemoration and pilgrimage of the First World War in the Somme. The Remembrance Trail was created with the aim of enhancing a visit to these memorials by providing visitors with better guidance to the famous sites:
The Historial, Museum of the Great War in Péronne
The Chapel of Remembrance in Rancourt
The South African Memorial and Museum in Longueval
The memorials and cemeteries of Pozières
The Thiepval Memorial and Museum
The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park
The Lochnagar Crater in La Boisselle
The Somme 1916 Museum in Albert
The Little Train of the Haute Somme in Froissy
The Franco-Australian Museum in Villers-Bretonneux
In addition to these ten sites, the Somme is home to hundreds of symbolic and important places of remembrance.
For more information about the Remembrance Trail and a detailed presentation of the sites, memorials and museums, please click here.
Brochures available upon request from Somme Tourisme and the Historial.
Group tours: more information and bookings:
More information about the battlefields of the Somme is available on the Somme Tourisme website especially dedicated to remembrance tourism: www.somme-battlefields.com