|The Independent Traveler's Newsletter PAGE FIVE|
from the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations - June 1945
This year in France will see the usual number of holidays both religious and public, but none will be more important to the French people than those that remind them of the last century's two World Wars waged on their soil. Two dates are not necessarily celebrated as much as they are honored and remembered: June 6, 1944. To quote the Encyclopedia Brittanica, "On that day, after a predawn crossing of the English Channel by an armada of ships, tens of thousands of well-trained American, British, Canadian, and other Allied troops stormed the beaches at Normandy and began the long-awaited liberation of northwestern Europe." And, between June 28 and August 14, 1914 - the start of World War I - one hundred years ago.
We provided information about upcoming events in Normandy in our last newsletter, but we would like expand on that information for those of you who may be planning a visit this year. We have been contacted by people who are planning a trip to France this year, some to visit the graves of their grandfathers, uncles or fathers, and others to see the places that their relatives fought in these two wars. So, in addition to Normandy, we are listing a few of the events planned in Northeastern France on the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War I.
The 70th Anniversary of D-Day will be commemorated this year in Normandy with many events planned for both locals and visitors, and people are encouraged to tour the beaches and battle sites with groups such as D-Day Historian Paul Woodadge, D-Day Tours or Overlord Tours. The tours focus on the landing beaches, military cemeteries, and villages that played a role in the Battle of Normandy. These tour groups provide well-informed, English-speaking guides.
If you prefer to experience the Normandy landing beaches from the air, you can take off in tandem with an experienced paragliding pilot from the cliffs of Port-en-Bessin and paraglide for a bird's-eye view - seeing the coast of Normandy as paratroopers may have seen it. For further information visit Elementair Basse Normandie.
Another option is to travel on the ground in an authentic World War II Jeep from the not-to-miss town of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, an activity sponsored by Manche Tourism. For one price, this tour will include two nights in a 3-star B&B, dinner at an auberge in Sainte-Mère-Eglise, a two-hour night trip aboard the jeep (daytime excursions also possible) and a visit to the open air museum of Sainte-Mère-Eglise.
The calendar of events planned for the region specific to the war includes:
- April through October: 'Leaving the War behind. From the Battle of Normandy through to Reconstruction' exhibition. This traveling exhibition visits 14 towns and includes lectures and special events.
- April through December: 'Grandma what was it like during the war?' exhibition, Juno Beach Centre, Courseulles-sur-Mer. This relates war-time experiences of Norman and Canadian civilians, mainly children, from 1940 to 1944.
through October: 'Cherbourg... and Freedom came from
the Sea', La Cité de la Mer, Cherbourg. An image exhibition
showing the work of the American troops in the days following the liberation
of the port of Cherbourg.
For those interested in independent exploration of Normandy, eight routes are laid out in chronological order that include museums and places of interest - all clearly signposted Normandie Terre - Liberté. You will be able to discover historical places and follow the progress of the enormous battle which led to the outcome of World War II. This map shows the routes and the towns they link.
But, Normandy offers visitors much more than a history lesson. Throughout the year there are cultural events for every taste, from art to entertainment, and from music to sport. An example begins the 12th of April and ends on the 31st of August - it is 'Cathedrals: Romanticism - Impressionism - Modernity’, at the Rouen Fine Arts Museum, Seine-Maritime. This is a Franco-German project with 180 masterpieces from 1789 to 1914 on display. For much more information visit the Normandy Tourism site.
invitation of French President François Hollande, Queen Elizabeth
and Prince Phillip will pay a state visit to France to mark the 70th Anniversary
of the Normandy landings. The Queen has not been to France since
2004, and they will be in Normandy on June 6 before going on to Paris June
7. If you plan to be in Normandy on June 6, be advised that there
may be some road closures or other interruptions in traffic for security
reasons surrounding her visit.
don't forget the World Equestrian Games scheduled for August 23 to September
7. We provided a lot of information about the Games in our last issue,
but couldn't resist adding this photo to entice you to attend! For
all you need to know if you are interested in attending, visit their web
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, of Austria-Hungary by Gavrilo Princip, a member of a Serbian nationalist group, on July 28, 1914, led Europe into war - called the Great War as well as the War to End All Wars. By the time it ended, countries far and wide had been drawn into the conflict - 9,911,000 military combatants were dead. France lost 1,397,800 in the military and an additional 300,000 civilians either from military action or disease, accidents and famine - second only to the losses suffered by Russia.
The Ossuaire at Douaumont The Memorial de Verdun
Perhaps one of the most moving sites to visit in France is the Ossuaire de Douaumont, located in Douaumont, France, and built as a memorial containing the remains of soldiers who died on the battlefield during the Battle of Verdun. It is difficult to comprehend, but this one battle raged for 300 days - from the 21st of February to the 19th of December 1916. In front of the Ossuaire, sloping down the hill, is the largest single French military cemetery of World War I. It has 16,142 graves and was begun in 1923 by a veteran of the Verdun battle, André Maginot, who later designed the Maginot Line. Both French and German soldiers are buried here, and in the Ossuaire itself are the skeletal remains of some 130,000 unidentified soldiers from both sides of the conflict. Also noteworthy is the Memorial de Verdun museum which is located on the battlefield of the destroyed village of Fleury-devant-Douaumont. It features artifacts of both the German and French combatants - their weapons, uniforms, field artillery and vehicles, as well as a movie theatre offering films relative to the battle.
The Battle of the Somme, July 1 to November 18, 1916, was waged on either side of the River Somme in France's Picardie region - its main purpose was for British forces to draw German troops away from Verdun. Success was finally achieved, but the Battle of the Somme became to be known as the bloodiest battle of the War.
From April until Armistice Day (November 11) many commemorative events will be held in the Somme. They include memorial services, concerts, lectures, and Remembrance ceremonies on November 11th. A more physical event will be the Europe Run to Unity, June 10 to 21. It will begin in Nieuwpoort (Flanders) Belgium, and will finish at the EU Parliament in Strasbourg, France. It is a relay run covering 1,050 kilometers along the length of the Western Front. If you have a special interest in the Somme, more detailed information about events and history can be found at www.somme14-18.com. Find information about visiting the battlefields for individuals, groups and students, and the Circuit du Souvenir route of battlefield sites.
R. Taylor's book, Spring on the Somme, tells how the region is once
again tranquil and beautiful - the discovery he made on his 130-mile journey
in a fisherman's punt from the source of the Somme to the sea where it
ends its journey - and how key battle sites have changed since WWI. The
author writes of trade in the Dark Ages, Roman forts, the Hundred Years
War and more. As he met people along the way, he heard stories of
the Great War, and one farmer told him that relics of the war, such as
rifle bullets, bubble up from the ground after a good rain. The farmer
had recently uncovered a rusty old bayonet when plowing a field, and he
and other farmers find it strange that so many English-speaking visitors
come to them for permission to collect items like these from their fields.
The Champagne-Ardenne region is where American, Russian and Portuguese troops fought alongside the French in World War I. There were two Battles of the Marne: the first in 1914 saw an Allied victory. The second Battle of the Marne began mid-July 1918 when the German Spring Offensive faced French, American, British and Italian troops. The area was under German occupation with the fortified Front Line running north of the River Marne and the Argonne Forest. By July 20th, the offensive had moved back to where it began, and by early August the fighting ceased with an Allied victory. Unfortunately, casualties totaled over 270,000 on both sides. Trench warfare left its mark on the landscape, and following the War, the land was cleared for agriculture and the trenches and other signs of military occupation were buried and forgotten. However, where the ground has never been plowed, some relics remain just below the surface. Archeologists, one hundred years later, are finding forgotten sites and some interesting discoveries are coming to light, just as they are in the Somme.
which saw the worst fighting of the whole war including the pivotal battles
of Marne, Somme and Verdun, has invited all the nations involved, on both
sides of the war, to join the Bastille Day parade on July 14th this year.
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