How you can travel to the WWI Historical sites

Brenda Watkinson takes a look at some of the itineraries offered by tour operators in the Flanders area and in France.

G alloway Travel Group based in East Anglia, is expecting to play a leading part in transporting many local communities from the county to the Western Front. Galloway is certainly well prepared when it comes to organising battlefield itineraries, as they have been arranging educational coach tours and day excursions to the Western Front for 50 years. Their latest 2014 brochure has a dedicated section of tours to The Somme and Ypres, including many cemeteries, memorials, and museums associated with the front lines.

As well as offering ‘off the shelf’ tours, Galloway appreciate that many groups wish to do specific things, and visit particular places on their tour – maybe one or more cemeteries, a particular headstone, or a significant museum. With this in mind, Galloway becomes fully involved with pre-tour planning, and is thus able to deliver a personalised itinerary for each group. Read more about Galloway’s new coaches featuring a special commissioned livery in Checkpoints on page 27.

Previously called Poppy Travel, remembrance travel is a specialist travel division of the Royal British Legion. For 2013, they are working with two travel partners newmarket holidays and ARENA TRAVEL. Remembrance Travel currently offer a number of short packages to the Western Front as well as bespoke tours which can be adapted to suit your group. A programme of tours is currently being finalised for the Centenary of the First World War and Remembrance Travel is advising groups to register their interest in advance.

Organising tours by both coach and air for private groups, the family-run company norman allen group travel was founded in 1972 and provides a tailor-made tour service to GTOs. They consider each group as being unique and their personalised service ensures your group’s specific needs are catered for. Norman Allen also provides a couple of sample itineraries, which can act as a starting block before being adapted to suit your particular requirements. These include ‘Battlefields of the Western Front’, a four-day tour staying at the Best Western Ambassador in Menin or the seven day ‘Ypres and Normandy Battlefields’ tour staying in Dover, Ypres and Caen.

Established in 1998, the independent tour operator, tailored travel is sure that the key to their success is their flexibility. For groups of 15 or more, Tailored Travel can tailor- make a holiday exclusively for your group and to your exact specifications. They can provide you with plenty of ideas and sample itineraries which can be adapted to your group’s need. taking in specific requests to visit particular sites. For instance, a five-day itinerary to both France and Belgium could include visits to talbot house in poperinge, the ploegsteert memorial to the missing and the site of the christmas truce of 1914, the reconstructed German trenches at croonaert wood, the hooge crater museum, and the menin gate in Belgium. Then, the following day crossing to France, you could visit the battlefield areas surrounding Arras before continuing onto the battlefields of the Somme, and returning to Ypres for the final day.

Meanwhile, greatdays travel group is happy to help groups tailor their trip to the Western Front providing single elements or multiple elements of their holiday. They are currently suggesting a four day itinerary ‘Battlefields of the First World War 100 Year Anniversary’ which can be adapted to suit your group. On this trip, groups can stay at the novotel, ypres, which is an old favourite with Greatdays customers. The hotel is located in the centre of Ypres just a short stroll from the In Flanders Fields Museum and the Menin Gate. Another accommodation option is the art deco style mercure lille roubaix grand hotel in the heart of roubaix, ideally located between The Somme and the Ypres Salient.


French remember the battles at Meaux

Wartime memories are just as significant for France as Britain and some of the most intense action took
place on the Front Line quite close to Paris. An impressive new Musee de la Grande Guerre opened recently at Meaux. It has a very comprehensive set of exhibits, many of which were collected from the battlefields by a local farmer after the conflict.

There are wonderful interpretive displays of how troops were clothed, their armaments, transport and living conditions. A number of evocative battlefields cemeteries are nearby. The museum is open to pre-booked groups, special rates apply for parties of 15 or more, and coach drivers and GTOs are free. English language guides are available.

Peter Stonham, Editorial Director

Staff from Sewerby Hall near Bridlington with local soldiers and Sewerby Hall today.


The Home Front re-visited

Val Baynton finds out where activities are being planned in the UK so you can start arranging your group programmes.

Sewerby Hall is one of the Yorkshire country houses taking part in the Duty Calls Exhibition.

The Imperial War Museum is bringing the UK activities together by leading the first world war centenary partnership, a network of nearly 1000 local, regional, national and international cultural and educational organisations. The partnership aims to present a vibrant, global programme of cultural events and activities, as well as promoting digital platforms that will enable millions of people to discover more about life in the First World War. Find out more at

As part of these commemorations, the imperial war museum, itself, is undergoing a major £35million re-development, and the new Central Hall will become the heart of its displays. From October 2013 this will be home to over 150 iconic large objects., which will reach out from rising terraced galleries, and will reflect and tell the history of modern warfare from 1914 through to the current conflict in Afghanistan. In summer 2014, the brand new First World War Galleries will open, along with new shops and a park-side café.

Also in London, the royal air force museum, is re-developing a gallery to re-display its First World War collections to help people understand what it was like to be involved in the earliest days of the Royal Flying Corps and how the world was changed by the technology and innovation of the era. Curators have chosen 100 key objects from its extensive First World War collections such as uniforms, medals and aircraft parts, and added them to groups on Flickr and Pinterest, so that web users can select their favourite items and vote them into the new exhibition. The most popular pieces will form a trail that will punctuate the new gallery.

Another great location to discover Britain’s aviation heritage is Lincolnshire, where the landscape is criss-crossed by wartime airfields and reminders of Lincolnshire’s historic aviation role. Throughout this year there are a variety of events linked to both the World Wars, and you can follow the various aviation trails around the county, visit the heritage centres at RAF Waddington and Cranwell, or have a day at the air show held by raf waddington (6th and 7th July). Groups are welcome and for more information about plans over the next four years GTOs should contact aviation heritage lincolnshire.

Yet another aspect of warfare is revealed at the tank museum in Bovington, Dorset, which boasts the world’s best collection of tanks and reveals the story of their use in the First World War. There’s a regular event programme and special activity is planned for 2014. Groups are welcome with special rates for parties of 15 or more, and guides and tours can be booked in advance.

Mark !V WWi Tank, replica as used in
Steven Speilberg’s movie Warhorse.
On show at the Tank Museum.

One of the memorials in the national arboretum in Staffordshire is the Shot at Dawn Memorial, which commemorates the 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were shot for desertion or cowardice. Most were sentenced after a short trial at which no real opportunity for defence was allowed. Andy Decomyn’s statue is modelled on Private Herbert Burden, of the first Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, who was shot in Ypres in 1915, aged 17. This is just one of many memorials at the Arboretum, which is part of the Royal British Legion and is run by its staff and many volunteers. The programme of activity for 2014 has not yet been unveiled but events based around different memorials such as Shot at Dawn and the Gallipoli memorial are planned. Groups of more than 10 should pre-book their visit and there are new packages available for groups of 25 plus. Special guided tours can be booked in advance.

cannock chase in Staffordshire was the location of a scaled model of the Messines Ridge, near Ypres, which was used to train over 500,000 men between 1915 and 1918. The site is currently being excavated, and an interpretation of the model will be based at the nearby marquis drive visitor centre, which is already home to an original Great War barrack block. Cannock Chase has many other links with WW1, as well as being a large military camp – the base for the New Zealand Rifle Brigade – it acted as a prisoner of war hospital, and it was a War Cemetery for both Commonwealth and German servicemen.

In Hertfordshire, bishop’s stortford museum is working with Hertfordshire Archive Service to create a website, and an exhibition in the town’s rhodes gallery about the work of the police during the period. Drawing on over 20,000 pages of incident books, daily logs, and ‘lost and found’ reports this will create a fascinating insight into the workings of a police station in this era.

The National Arboretum – Shot at Dawn Memorial.

Food in wartime is the subject explored at the yorkshire museum of farming in murton, near York, where its new permanent exhibition, ‘Feeding the Nation: A Celebration of the Women’s Land Army’, is about the role of the Women’s Land Army during both world wars. Groups are welcome, but are advised to pre-book to take advantage of discounted rates and or specialist tours.

‘The World Wars 1905 to 1947’, is the theme of one of the permanent galleries at london’s army museum and next year special activity is planned not just here, but at the many regimental museums throughout the country. The staffordshire regiment museum in Lichfield, for example, has a permanent exhibit of a World War One trench and regular events commemorating the role of the regiment in the war. The next, a ‘Great War Living History Weekend’, is planned for 6th and 7th July. Re-enactors and staff will re-create the experience of trench life using period dress and equipment. Groups are welcomed and advised to ring in advance so that tours can be tailored to suit specific interests.

A special exhibition is due to open at the manx museum in January 2014 and will run for the whole year. It will look at the range of Manx experiences from soldiers on the battlefields to the role of women, and from conscientious objectors to the Home Front, using local artefacts such as letters, diaries and photographs to tell the story.

The national museum, royal navy in Portsmouth is currently being developed to add more galleries so that the history of the navy can be brought right up to date to include both World Wars. The Hear My Story Exhibition will open in spring 2014.

Later this year a selection of Home Front and Naval paintings of the First World War, a major loan from the Imperial War Museum, will go on show at the historic dockyard chatham, kent. The exhibition,‘Sir John Lavery RA: From Shore to Sea 1914-1918,’ will run from September until 1st December. To find out more about facilities at the dockyard for groups, contact the group sales administrator.

Nine country houses across Yorkshire are taking part in duty calls, a series of interlinked exhibitions and programmes, revealing how the lives of those in country houses and the wider communities were affected by the wars. Duty came in many forms, from domestic to national service, men were sent away to fight, women volunteered as nurses, and houses and horses were requisitioned. The rise of aerial warfare meant danger from the skies, and the impact of death among loved ones and neighbours cut across social strata. Running until October 2014 the exhibition takes in beningbrough hall, York; brodsworth hall, Doncaster; castle howard, North Yorkshire; fairfax house, York; kiplin house, Richmond; lotherton hall, Leeds; newby hall, Ripon; nostell priory, Wakefield and sewerby hall, Bridlington.


Finding WWI ‘Little Treasures’

There are a number of specialist smaller attractions around the UK with WWI connections. A new one will be the former home of Welsh poet, Hedd Wyn – Yr Ysgrwn, near Trawsfynydd in Gwynedd, Wales – which is to become a museum and interpretation centre. An award of nearly £150,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund will be used to secure its future. Hedd Wyn’s real name was Ellis Humphrey Evans. He became a successful Welsh-language poet before the First World War and won several prizes at eisteddfodau.

In 1916, he won second place at the National Eisteddfod and vowed to win first place the following year. In early 1917, Hedd Wyn joined the 15th battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and left for the Western Front in June, but was killed in action. At the National Eisteddfod in September 1917, a poem that he had posted home from the front line was read out and won first place, the prize being an oak chair, which will become part of the new display. Another Little Treasure, the original Stow Maries WWI Aerodrome, now a museum, near Maldon, Essex, features in the current issue of our sister publication Little Treasures of Britain.


70th Anniversary of D-Day

Next year will mark the 70th Anniversary of the Allied Landings in Normandy and the Liberation of Europe, and commemoration plans are underway. One of the main events will be the 70th Anniversary D-Day Memorial Parade and this will take place on 6th June in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, which was the first French village to be liberated by American paratroopers. Military units, marching bands and other associations will march down the same streets that were lined with American troops in 1944. Following the parade will be a closing ceremony and Musical Salute to the Veterans.

Many events and exhibitions will be held across Normandy during 2014 and UK tour operators are already launching their programmes. Many itineraries will include a visit to Le Memorial de Caen. Using photo archives and original video footage, this museum details the history of the First World War before examining the events that took place in Europe during the years leading to Hitler winning elections in 1933, and eventually to the outbreak of World War II. Aircraft, military vehicles and uniforms are on display and there are touch screens to enable visitors to learn about the various aspects of the war.

A group being guided around the Memorial de Caen.

The Memorial de Caen is very aware of the importance of the 70th Anniversary, aiming to ensure the universal message of reconciliation, peace and respect is passed from one generation to another, and is devoting considerable effort in commemorating the event. During 2014, a series of exhibitions, conferences, meetings and major events will take place at the Memorial. Discounts apply to groups of 20 or more with both guided tours and audio guides bookable in advance.

Situated at Merville-Franceville a short drive from Caen, the Merville Battery Museum pays testament to hundreds of young men who lost their lives during Operation Overlord. The original artefacts on display, were donated by the soldiers themselves, and visitors can also explore four entirely preserved bunkers, which house several exhibitions, as well as a legendary Dakota C47 aircraft. Discounts apply to groups of ten or more. Guided tours can be booked in advance.

As your group explores the Normandy coastline, there’s much to see and to reflect on – not least are the D-day beaches, still known by their code names Utah, Omaha, Gold, June and Sword. Of particular note is the American Cemetery and Visitor Centre overlooking Omaha Beach.

The Normandy American
Cemetery and Memorial
overlooking Omaha Beach.

A chapel, memorial and ‘Garden of the Missing’ honour the memory of men killed in action whilst the visitor centre shows a film depicting the final day and weeks of their lives, told through authentic letters sent to their families back home. More active groups can also make their way down to the beach, where the enormity of the task facing the landing soldiers becomes all too clear.