From 9 April to 16 May 1917, the forces of Great Britain, Canada, Newfoundland, Australia and New Zealand confronted the German Army at Arras.
The objectives of this battle were to break through German lines forcing the German Army, which was numerically inferior at the time, into mobile warfare. British High Command, in collaboration with its French counterparts, was in charge of planning the battle, which was to be launched at the same time as the Nivelle Offensive, a French battle taking place 80km farther south in the Aisne. These combined assaults had the ambitious aim of breaking through German lines and defeating the enemy within just a few days.
The first role of the British and Allied troops was to retain German forces in the vicinity of Arras, keeping them from being deployed to the Aisne, and the second was to capture the heights dominating the Douai plain. By 16 May, after a series of successful attacks, significant progress had been made but the major breakthrough had not been achieved. Almost 150,000 Allied soldiers were made casualty during the battle.
Arras’ Wellington Tunnels, a site of remembrance working in partnership with the Historial
The town of Arras has conserved an exceptional site of particular significance to the battle, which can be discovered at the Wellington Tunnels, Memorial to the Battle of Arras.
As authorities in Arras explain, these tunnel is “the starting point for WW1 remembrance, focussing more on the soldiers’ lives than on thewar itself. It is an authentic place where visitors walk in the very footsteps of thesoldiers.”
This quarry was not only a strategic position, but also became home to almost 24,000 men who were billeted here. Guided tours immerse visitors in history as they walk in the footsteps of these men.
The Historial, Museum of the Great War: one history, two museums
Immerse yourselves in the history of the First World War at the museums of the Historial of the Great War at Péronne and Thiepval. Visitors can purchase a combined ticket to these museums, which study the war in its every dimension.
At Péronne, visitors can learn about the History of the First World War through its permanent and newly renewed displays, enriched content and array of multimedia providing additional information about the topics explored and collections on display. An internationally acclaimed museum, the Historial provides visitors with a better grasp of history and promotes remembrance through a museum layout that studies both life at the front and behind the lines. It interweaves the views and memories of the three main nations at war on the Western Front. Amongst the numerous themes studied, which include daily life, the front, military equipment, technological evolution, propaganda and children during the war, visitors can discover a great number of British artefacts and documents.
Since 2016, a 20 minute film (viewable in four languages) acts as an introduction to the museum display, focussing on significant moments, the stakes at issue and the people involved. An app (available in four languages, including English) enables visitors, right from the age of seven, to better explore the museum and its collections.
Inaugurated on 1 July 2016 by the President of the French Republic, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the Thiepval Museum is dedicated to the battles of the Somme and remembering the men involved.
Located close to the Thiepval Memorial, these new galleries provide visitors with a unique museum experience, and include a film and a vast time-line that studies war in the Somme from 1914 to 1918. A sixty metre long panorama by Joe Sacco and a pit exhibiting artefacts and animated displays highlights the violence and tragedy of the 1 July 1916. On this day alone, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 20,000 British soldiers lost their lives. The displays interweave German and French perceptions of life at the front, and the memorial room dedicated to the Missing has an intimate, chapel-like quality with its 90 portraits of Missing soldiers and their personal effects and families’ keepsakes. The gallery to the Aces of Aviation features a replica of the Nieuport Ni-17, the aircraft flown by Georges Guynemer in the Somme, in 1916.
Good to know
Combined tickets to explore the two museums
The Historial, Museum of the Great War sells combined tickets to its two museums at Péronne & Thiepval. Adult tickets cost 10 Euros, children’s tickets cost 7 Euros and a family ticket (2 adults + 2 children) costs 25 Euros.