Marcus Leach and his family are embarking on a motorhome tour of Europe, with the plan being to visit 25 countries across three continents. In the last instalment, Marcus filled us in on the essential kit to take on a European tour – in part four, he’s taking a look at some of the war memorials in France and Belgium that you can visit…
For me it was the haunting words of Wilfred Owen’s famous poem Dulce et Decorum Est, for Harrison, my six-year-old son, it was holding a World War Two ration book in school. Both of those moments, some twenty-five years apart, sparked in us a shared fascination of the world wars that shaped the world we live in today.
It was hardly surprising then that the main focus of the first week of The Big European Odyssey centred around visits to an array of the many monuments, museums and battle fields that played pivotal roles in the outcomes of both World War One and World War Two. Visits made all the more poignant, and shocking in many ways, given what’s going on in the world at present.
With so many different monuments and museums to visit you might be left wondering where to start, so here’s our recommendations for the war memorials in France and Belgium that you should consider visiting.
Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917
Easily one of the best museums we’ve ever been to, on any topic. The museum expertly brings to life what it would have been like during this pivotal battle with a mix of authentic displays, old memorabilia, re-created underground bunkers and original restored trenches, complete with informative audio guides, one for adults and a simplified one for kids. A must visit if you’re in Flanders.
Tyne Cot Cemetery
It’s hard to grasp the scale of loss that occurred during the wars without going to see the memorial cemeteries. Just up the road from Passchendaele Museum sits Tyne Cot Cemetery, resting place to nearly 12,000 servicemen, making this the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world in terms of burials. In total the names of 35,000 brave souls fill the walls of the perfectly symmetrical memorial.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
For many the Second World War will be remembered by D-Day and the start of Operation Overlord. It was on the beaches of Northern Frame that America lost so many troops, and so it’s fitting that such a strikingly beautiful memorial sits on the ground overlooking the very beaches that witnessed such atrocity. In addition to the peaceful gardens where almost 10,000 soldiers are laid to rest, there is an insightful and intriguing museum sharing many forgotten stories from the war, championing the bravery of all those involved.
The Battles of the Somme between 1915 and 1918 were some of the most catastrophic, with hundreds of thousands of lives being lost. Many of those soldiers never had a known grave, and this impressive memorial commemorates 72,337 British and South African servicemen who never came home from the war. The nearby visitor centre is a must visit to gain a deeper understanding of the battles that took place here.
Musée Somme 1916
Another truly brilliant interactive museum that strikes the right balance between history and interest for visitors of all ages. Set in the crypt beneath the Basilique Notre-Dame de Brebières the tunnels, measuring over 250m long, are home to recreated sleeping quarters, military operations rooms, hospital wards, store rooms, a sniper position and a German trench from the Battle of the Somme.
Our visits to the war memorials have reminded us, as we set out on our great adventure, just how precious life is, and the need to make the most of every moment. Let us not forget our history, or indeed all those who fought so valiantly for the lives that we live.
You can follow our adventures in the latest issue of Practical Motorhome, or alternatively, over on Instagram (@marcusleachglobal and @our.roaming.odyssey) and Twitter (@marcusgleach) where we will be sharing daily updates from our life on the road.
Missed the previous instalments of The Big European Odyssey? You can catch up here – in the first part, we found out about planning for a European tour, while in part two, Marcus filled us in on the essential preparation for a motorhome tour of Europe. In part three, we also found out about the essential items to take on a European tour.
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