Image Credit: Hannah Clements
Across the fields of France and Belgium, there are several sites to help us remember the First World War. Some of the most well known include Thiepval Memorial, the Menin Gate, Tyne Cot Cemetery, and the Lochnagar Crater. Yet there are many smaller sites that feel just as valuable to visit and in some ways, the intimacy and seclusion of these spaces can be as meaningful as the more well-known sites.
Commemorating over 72,000British and South African lives, Thiepval memorial is situated under an hour's drive from the French city of Amiens. This beautiful memorial holds the names of 72,318 casualties from the Somme region, all of which have no known grave.
The Menin Gate
The Menin Gate is another of the largest memorials to commemorate the First World War. Again, every name on this memorial is a soldier with no known grave, remembering 54,000 soldiers who died in Belgium. Every night at 8 pm, there is a memorial service in honour of these men called the Last Post. I highly recommend attending this service, the poignancy of the experience is difficult to put into words. In 2018, I was lucky enough to laya wreath in this service myself, and it remains one of the most special experiences in my life to date.
Tyne Cot Cemetary
The levels of grief contained within these walls incomprehensible. Holding the graves of 3606 men, Tyne Cot is the largest British First World War cemetery. The memorial here further remembers 5,000 British and NewZealand soldiers who have no known grave. When visiting this cemetery, the death statistics of the war are put into perspective, as you are faced with never-ending rows of graves.
As well as open fire above ground, many men (particularly miners) were hard at work digging tunnels underground to plant mines under enemy lines. Lochnagar Crater is what remains of just one of 19 mines that were left under German lines ready for the Somme attack. Two minutes before the commencement of the battle, the mine exploded, leaving what we see today as a crater 21 meters deep and 100 meters wide. Without seeing it for yourself, it is difficult to comprehend the size of the crater or imagine the intensity of devastation and destruction this explosion caused.
The Grave of Nelly Spindler
In a row of graves at the edge of Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, one of them was built to remember one of the few women recognised as be-ing killed in action. Working as a battlefield nurse, Spindler was killed by shell fire in August 1917. Specialising in urgent care, she was based very close to the front line, so she would have been under constant threat from military weapons. It is very rare to find a nurse’s grave among those of soldiers killed on the front line.
St Symphorien Cemetery
Although the main sites of the war spread for miles across France and Belgium, and the war lasted for years, the first and last known British soldiers to die during the time of conflict were killed so close to each other that their graves are merely a few feet apart. What first appears to be an average war cemetery, St Symphorien holds these two graves.
Louverel is another seemingly average cemetery that contains a hidden gem. As many war graves as possible, across all the battlefields, are marked with an epitaph: an inscription written by the family and friends of the fallen soldier. Among the graves in this cemetery, one of these simply says ‘Nettie’s Chum’.
If you find yourself taking a scenic walk through France, and crossRiqueval Bridge, it is worth remembering that this is the location of one of the most famous photographs of the First World War. The riverbank which is now covered in trees and foliage was once covered with hundreds of soldiers posing for the camera after the victory of the Battle of St Quentin Canal, where the soldiers broke the Hindenburg line.