WWI Our final stops before Paris

Our godson Connor was interested in WWI so we easily included a number of stops as we explored the northern coast of France. I was not as familiar with some of the details I’ve described in my previous posts (along with this post) concerning WWI but I’m glad we made all of these stops. I’m by no means an expert, but the sacrifices made for WWI were great and we were able to honor those during our visit.

Thiepval Memorial

This is a war memorial to the 72,337 missing British and South African servicemen who died in the Battle of the Somme in the first WW between 1915 – 1918 with no known grave. It has been described as “the greatest executed British work of monumental architecture of the 20th century”.

It dominates the rural scene and has 16 laurel wreaths inscribed with the names of the sub-battles that made up the Battle of the Somme and subsequent actions.

It is the largest of the Commonwealth Memorial to the Missing in the world. As seen in several of my photos, it is in a rural area, overlooking a valley. Parking is below and there is a wooded, peaceful walk to the memorial, not truly seen in it’s splendor until the trees part. This memorial is huge and awe inspiring.

Just reading about the architecture and the symbolism was amazing to me. Way more information that I could include. Check it out!

An Anglo-French cemetery containing 300 British Commonwealth and 300 French graves lies at the foot of the memorial – most are unknown.

The Cross of Sacrifice bears an inscription.

Oise-Aisne American Cemetery

This is the second of eight WWI military cemeteries on foreign soil and actually was the second visit for Eric and me. We happened upon it a number of years ago as we were driving through the countryside heading towards Paris.

It contains the graves of 6012 American soldiers who died while fighting in this vicinity, of which approx. 10% were not identified. Interestingly enough, we talked with the serviceman in charge and remains in the area were found recently and identified. Arrangements are being organized for a full military burial later this year into this cemetery.

At either end of the brick memorial are small rooms containing a chapel and museum. All 48 states (at the time) and the District of Columbia are represented here on the crosses. Here are a few shots from inside the chapel room.

Again, a lot of symbolism. The 10 double columns along the back of the center brick monument are inscribed with the Division numbers who fought in this sector. The sides are engraved with images of contemporary images such as gas masks and artillery shells. Inscribed on the center block of the monument:

Searching for info to include in the post, I came across something that is not generally talked: Plot E. This is a graveyard for dishonorably discharged and executed sesrvicean for crimes committed during WWII. One American soldier was executed for desertion during WWII and was buried there until 1987. Plot E is separate from the main cemetery, secluded by hedges and only accessible through a door from the superintendent’s office.

Aisne-Marne American Cemetery

The US entered WWI in April 1017. The Allies and Germans doubted the fighting capability of this young nation. The Germans sought to win the war in the Spring of 1918, before US units became operational. Germans fought through the French line, reaching the Marne River. US forces were requested and blocked the Germans on the North bank of the Marne. In June the Marines led a charge to clear out the German units, with the battle lasting 20 days. Another attempt by the Germans Mid-July was blocked by the Marines. These actions solidified the fighting capability of the US.

Within this cemetery, there are 2289 graves plus 1060 commemorated.

The cemetery itself is laid out in the form of a capital T, with the memorial chapel crowning the T shape. The memorial chapel is built over the site of the front-line battle trenches.

There are so many details in all of these chapels. There’s no way to see everything on one visit.

Chateau-Thierry American Monument

This monument is situated on a hillside and commands a wide view of the valley of the River Marne. It commemorates the achievements of the United States Forces that fought in the region during WWI.

This is the only place I can say it was more of a ‘drive-by’. Only two of us got out of the car and this is my only photo. The two sculptured figures seen above represent the United States and France. The inscription reads:

This monument has been erected by the United States of America to commemorate the services of her troops and those of France who fought in the region during the World War. It stands as a lasting symbol of the friendship and cooperations between the French and American Armies.

It wasn’t until I started listing all of the places we visited I truly realized we accomplished a lot in our short time. Without Connor, I’m not sure we would have seen these places – and I thank him for that.


WWI Vimy Ridge & Memorial

The Vimy ridge provided a natural unobstructed view for tens of kilometers in all directions.

It changed hands several times in 1914 before the Germans had a solid stronghold on the ridge. The Germans had taken advantage of the relative calm to build an extensive network of tunnels and deep mines. Some of these had been preserved to allow today’s visitors to understand trench warfare.

Living in the trenches was no piece of cake.

Prior to the Battle of Vimy Ridge, British tunneling companies secretly laid 13 mines under German positions to destroy fortifications before the assault.

The main combatants were four divisions of Canadian Corps against three divisions of the German army. The battle took place in April 1917. The Canadian Corps captured most of the ridge the first day. The final objective was achieved on April 12, falling to the Canadians. Historians attribute the success of the Canadian Corps to technical and tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery support and extensive training.

It is a symbol of Canadian national achievement and sacrifice.

Nearby is the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. It is startling white and impactful. The Vimy Memorial is one of only two National historic sites of Canada located outside of the country. The other was my prior post.

The memorial is the centerpiece of 250 acres of preserved battlefields. Wartime tunnels, trenches, craters and unexploded munitions still honeycomb the grounds of the site. Canadian identify and nationhood were born out of the battle. Below, Eric and Connor were approaching the memorial. Notice one sculpture at the very top.

The stone came from an ancient Roman quarry in Croatia. The twin pylons are engraved with two emblems: one bears a maple leaf for Canada and the other a fleur-de-lis for France, symbolizing their unity and sacrifice of the two countries. BTW – that is Adrienne in my photo below.

Sculptors carved ~20 double life-sized human figures on site from large blocks of stone.

The top most statue is called Peace, with figures below representing Justice, Truth, Knowledge, Gallantry and Sympathy.

This particular statue was striking and is the largest figure. It is called Canada Bereft. Head bowed in sorrow, she provides a powerful representation of Canada, a young nature grieving her dead. She gazes down at a symbolic tomb draped in laurel branches (sorry – no photo).

Carved on the wall are the names of 11285 Canadian soldiers who died in France and whose final resting place is unknown. At the base of the monument these words appear in French and English:

This monument is a tribute to all Canadians who served during the First World War. It was built to inspire all to work towards lasting peace, for which those commemorated here gave their lives.


WWI Deville Wood Memorial & Cemetery

Deville Wood was a tract of woodland on the western edge of Longueval. It was taken by a Scottish Division and South African Brigade in 1916 and cleared of Germans. The wood was held until April 1918 when it was lost to the Germans but retaken within 4 months.

Before reaching the memorial there is an alleyway of trees that leads you to the reverent and peaceful spot.

This memorial serves as the National monument to all of the South African Overseas Expeditionary Forces that died in WWI and was unveiled in 1926.

In one of the numerous archways I found these words………

Their ideal is our legacy.

Their Sacrifice our inspiration.

A total of 220,000 officers and men served in the forces of South Africa. A total of 5523 burials are here with 3593 considered unknown.

The high percentage of unknown probably reflects the lengthy period which elapsed before the bodies were removed from the battlefield.

Almost all causalities within this cemetery were from July – September in 1916.

In 1952 a Stone of Remembrance was added to honor those from WWII and the Korean War.

While not planned, this post is going out on Memorial Day – a fitting tribute to those that made the ultimate sacrifice for us.


Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial WWI

Five memorials in Europe recognize Newfoundlanders who served in WWI – this is the largest. At its heart stands a bronze caribou – the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. It watches over where many have fallen and there is no known resting place for their soldiers.

There are 6 of these bronze statues – 1 for each European site and the last one in St. Johns Newfoundland. The rocks and shrubs that surround the mound are native to Newfoundland. Information can be found to visit all of the European sites which is called the Trail of The Caribou.

There was an informative visitor center and I’m including the two photos below. It really shows all the damage with the artillery bombardment and war. When the war was over, people were coming back to this.

After leaving the visitor center to walk around the property, this is one of the first plaques that I came across, even before the bronze caribou. The day we visited it was peaceful and the only sounds were the birds singing. The memorial is situated in the countryside. It’s not something you will just drive past unless that is your intent.

This was one of the first WWI memorials we visited and I learned more about trench warfare – it was brutal. Yes, had read about it in history books, but this brought everything to life. The land was still pock-marked with craters and trenches and 100+ years have passed.

At the time of WWI, Newfoundland was part of the British Empire and not Canadien. Yet, they still maintained their own unit. When this part of the action was activated, unfortunately it lacked the element of surprise. They suffered the highest casualty rate for a battalion that day with 700+ killed, wounded or missing – 86% casualty rate.

There were four separate cemeteries on site, the largest being the Y Ravine cemetery.

This was the first place I’ve seen this on headstones with many being double graves. Also their coat of arms were intriguing to me. Identification was helped with the gear and clothing they wore if names were unknown.

Then I ran across these stones. It really put death and burials into perspective. Notice the one in the middle – a member of the navy.

Walking towards the back of the site, we came across three other burial sites, the first being Scottish.

Two other cemeteries were nearby, each having their own cross and walled boundary.

There was one other sound we heard that morning – the sound of sheep. I assumed they were helping to keep the grass under control – a natural way to preserve the serenity of the site.

In keeping with true form, when I tried to get a closer shot of the sheep, this was all I got.

While this was a moment of levity during our visit, this quote below found in the visitor center remained with me.

If you’re interested in WWI or traveling in the northern part of France, this should be a place on your list to visit.


France WWII Cemeteries British and Canadian

The British cemetery we visited was in Bayeux. We stopped after touring the Bayeux Tapestry.

While little actual fighting was in Bayeux, those buried here were brought in from surrounding villages and hospitals nearby.

This cemetery is the largest Commonwealth cemetery, having 4648 burials, 338 unknown.

Within this number are 500+ graves of other nationalities. It was the first time I’d seen a German headstone, which is the majority of the 500 at this site. Other nationalities included Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Czech Republic, Italy and South Africa.

At the back of the cemetery was the ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ which I saw in a number of cemeteries as we continued our travels.

There was one marker that indicated a gentleman that had been awarded the Victorian Cross – the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system.

Before leaving we got one photo in front of this gorgeous wisteria vine.

This Canadian cemetery had not been on our list of stops, but driving through the country-side we came upon it, circled around and stopped to honor those soldiers.

It was the only place during our travels that had (2) towers within the site.

Within this cemetery there are 2048 markers and 9 sets of brothers. Most were killed in early July 1944 in the Battle for Caen.

The cemetery also contains 3 British graves and 1 French grave – he was part of the French Resistance group who fought and died alongside the Canadien soldiers. He had no known relatives and was thus buried here.

Within this cemetery is also a Chaplan that was killed in cold blood by a German Panzer regiment on D-Day. His body was not found until July.

Researching this site after our visit, I found one interesting fact…….The Amazing Race – Canada had the contestants arrive at the cemetery and pay their respects before retrieving their clue ‘Les we Forget’ card.

It was a lucky find as we were traveling that day. There were quite a few visitors at this location, and we saw notes left from family members put with the gravestones, photocopies of a soldier in his youth along with his story of those he left behind in Canada.


France WWII Cemeteries -American

When visiting the D-Day beaches, a natural next step (in my opinion) should be the cemeteries to honor those fallen. We visited two on our recent visit.

Normandy American Cemetery

This cemetery is the most heavily visited site, sitting on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel. In 2007 it was the first Visitor Center opened by the organization that oversees all of our sites. Visitors first learn about French life under the occupation of German forces and then the focus shifts to the planning of the invasion of Europe and why Normandy was chosen. Exhibits explain the roles of the many different specialists in the U.S. forces required to successfully breach the Atlantic Wall defenses.

This engraving was seen upon arrival to the visitor’s center.

The letter below was distributed on the eve of the invasion. It was only one page.

There is a moving film, a number of exhibits and personal stories told before you walk through a final hallway hearing the names of those that were lost.

After a short distance, you can see the shoreline from the cliff above. Eric and Connor were talking about the events that occurred in 1944.

The memorial consists of this semi-circular colonnade with a loggia at each end containing large maps and narratives of the military operations.

The sculpture in the center is called ‘The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves’.

Behind this sculpture are tablets with the names of the missing in action, lost or buried at sea. 1557 names are listed along the panels. A few have a brown rosette next to a name on the wall to indicate they have been found.

The cemetery contains 9388 gravestones of white marble. Those of the Jewish faith are marked by Stars of David. Latin crosses mark all others.

Most of those buried here lost their lives in the D-Day landings and subsequent hedgerow fighting.

France granted the U.S. a special perpetual concession to the land free of any charge or taxation, but it is still French soil. There was a pathway with the headstones on the right as seen below.

On the left is a serene look at the landing beach that were so very different on 6.6.1944.

As we walked around there are a number of languages that can be heard – not only English. It is a place for contemplation and respect for what happened in history and hopefully a lesson learned.

As we were leaving, I grabbed one last shot.

Brittany American Cemetery

This site is named in honor of the battle to secure the Brittany peninsula and its ports. The greater number of those lost their lives during the German counterattack at Mortain in early July 1944. Others fell on the field of battle up to the liberation of Paris in August 1044.

The statue is called ‘Youth Triumphing Over Evil’.

The chapel is built of granite typical of Brittany. Inside the memorial contains two large operations maps, and military corps flags hung from its walls. Eight stained glass windows depict some of the town liberated between Normandy and Paris.

The cemetery contains 4405 American war dead. Inscribed along the retaining wall of the memorial terrace are the names of 500 of the missing whose remains were not recovered.

VE Day or Victory in Europe Day was May 8 and we saw a number of floral arrangements marking the day during our travels. This is the day celebrating the formal acceptance by the Allies of WWII of German’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces, marking the official end of World War II in Europe.

Like many other places, there was a peaceful reverence while we walked. I would guess that visitation is minimal as there is no public transportation to this location and a taxi would be needed after taking a train to Rennes. We saw one other couple during our time. Viewed from the air the cemetery forms the shoulder sleeve insignia of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces.

The grounds were immaculate and well kept. There was a noticeable difference. I stopped back at the Visitors center and passed along my observations and thanks.

My last photo is from a plaque inside of the chapel.


Amiens – traveling & eating

Naturally we’re having a lot of good meals and quite a few blog posts share those details. Some we have researched and made a reservation prior to leaving home. Then, you occasionally need to eat someplace and hope for the best.

Man! Got to tell you. We made two awesome stops traveling around the Amiens country-side that blew us away. It’s not that it was gourmet eating but basic brassiere dining. Then the last restaurant in the post occurred our last night in Amiens. We wanted to eat inside due to the chilly temps. The place we chose – we were the first ones there – not always a good sign. However, we were quite happy with our dinner that night as you’ll read below. Let’s get started.


Here is a glance at their menu – on the wall. Thats it – but it was enough.

Some starters were ordered: Oeuf parfait (perfect egg) and rillettes de poulet (shredded chicken).

Fish of the day, beef tartare and fish & chips were our entree’s

I ordered the tarte citron – perfect for the four of us. I got half of the dessert and they each got one dollop. 🙂

Why was this place so special? We were getting hungry, googled nearby restaurants and this one was rated highly. We pulled in…………………….

That’s when we noticed it was in with a grocery store! No matter, the place was full, we were hungry and got one of the last free tables. We would stop in again if in that region. Now that’s saying something.

Corner’s Pub

Driving through another little town, same scenario. Getting hungry, googled local open restaurants (kind of tough on a Sunday) and found this place.

Drinks for everyone – except Eric since he’s driving. BTW – Connor is legal drinking age in Europe. That’s kind of fun, for him and for us.

Eric heard about this specialty in the region – ficelle picardie, a crepe with ham, mushrooms, and shallots covered with a mornay sauce. Didn’t look like much when it arrived, but we were using whatever we could find to get every last morsel out of the dish.

Meal selections were scotch rarebit w/ frites, scallop salad, croque madame and lamb shank.

Connor was the c.l.e.a.r. winner with the lamb, saying it was his best meal in France thus far.

Naturally desserts were ordered, why not.

The owner was a hoot, greeting everyone at the door, shaking our hands and asking where we were from. It was clear he knew most of the people in his restaurant and yes, the food was REALLY good.

Les Boissons

As I mentioned at first, we were the first ones in the door and wasn’t even sure they were serving food or only drinks. Starters were a salad and white asparagus.

Main courses were braised veal, steak and frites and burger w/ Roquefort cheese and frites.

The burger was awesome (and my order). 🙂

No meal is complete with desserts and three scoops of various ice creams was great: vanilla, chocolate and salted caramel, with crunchy cookies, whipped cream and drizzle of caramel. Yum!

I’m closing with a sign we found in one of the restaurants named above. It seems fitting and if we all could accomplish this, maybe just maybe we would be in a better place.



Yes, that is one large cathedral. In fact, the largest in France. I read that two of Paris’s Notre Dame cathedrals could fit inside. Yikes. Visiting the cathedral wasn’t the only reason for making it to Amiens, it was a central jumping off point for WWI sites – which was our plan.

Before that, let’s talk our accommodations. Another AirBNB with a teeny, tiny parking spot for Eric to squeeze into. We have a BMW rental – no Eric, we don’t need one – and while a fun vehicle to drive, bigger than most vehicles on the road and subsequent parking in France.

Getting in and out was a lot of fun, for me at least. Ha! I was directing his pathway before hopping in.

We didn’t plan on staying in Amiens for very long, so we found a place in the city center – we were good. A bedroom for each, decent kitchen and one bathroom – you had to plan your routines around each other.

Back to the cathedral…….

It was built almost entirely between 1220 and 1270, a remarkably short period of time for a Gothic cathedral, giving it an unusual unity of style. The details are just so amazing!

The builders were trying to maximize the internal dimension in order to reach for the heavens and bring in more light.

The initial impetus for the building came from the installation of the reputed head of John The Baptist. A sumptuous reliquary with the face of the Saint was made to house the skull. The skull and reliquary were lost during the revolution, but a 19th century replica was made and is displayed.

The cathedral was fought over during both World Wars and suffered significant damage and was repeatedly occupied by both sides. Some of the stained glass is from the original construction. Others were created in the more recent centuries. The rose windows were amongst the oldest.

There are a number of memorials along the columns recognizing those countries that fought for and around Amiens.

Stopping over at Amiens really upped our knowledge around WWI and some coming posts will be sharing our stops.


BTW – also read that Amiens hosts the largest Christmas market in Northern France. Who knows…….we may be back.

Mont St. Michel

A tidal island located 1 km off the coast and surrounded by saltmarsh meadows there stands an 8th century monastery. The archangel St Michael came to the dream of St Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, directing him to build on the rock outcropping. The architecture of the village and fortifications is a mixture of stone and timber framework wrapped around what nature created.

Not many people are aware there are a few hotel rooms available for guests to stay on the island. Years ago I discovered that info in a Rick Steve’s travel book and we made it happen – twice for Eric and I when you include this trip.

The rooms are different shapes and sizes depending upon where they were carved out of the existing buildings.

Our dinner plans upon arrival involved a charcuterie platter we gathered prior to stepping onto the island. It was our first order of business, along with wine and cidre.

Immediately after we started exploring the mostly deserted streets of Mont St. Michel.

The night of our arrival rain started right after we parked and made for a damp walk and exploration. No matter, we still trekked thought a number of passages and stairways. BTW – this shot was at taken at 9pm.

Since this is off season, choices are limited but we found a bar that was still serving and warmed up with various beverages.

Connor and I started exploring again and got a few photos before heading back to our individual rooms. These shots were taken close to 10pm. Now I understand why most living accommodations around here have the metal roll-down shutters.

Deliveries and trash are conveyed by these vehicles – waking us up the next morning.

Fresh veggies and mussels are seen below they had been delivered that morning.

Then we saw this runner – Adrienne! She’s kept up with her morning run, no matter what country we’ve visited.

Speaking of food and deliveries…………….we found a place open early and had savory breakfast galettes. Connor won with his selection on the far right: sausage wrapped in the galette, fried egg and a (most delicious – according to Connor!) salad. Eric totally loved the coffee here – having at least 4 cups that morning.

Fortified with food in our bellies, it was time to take the stairs – lots and lots and lots – to go into the Abby.

Had to chuckle with this photo describing monastery life………

We made it to the top and before going into the building grabbed these photos.

Like most older buildings and monuments, it was going under a bit of refurbishment, so the pathway and access was modified.

After leaving the main sanctuary we walked into this peaceful cloister.

Looking around, there were intricate details most walked right past.

Next stop was the eating hall. Enjoyed by all in silence except for the one monk chosen to read scripture while the others ate.

Going down a set of stairs……

…………you came upon the cooking area. Now that’s a big fireplace.

What goes up, must come down – through this pulley system – back in the day.

All too soon, we were exiting the abbey, but I found this small rose garden tucked into a corner.

Our Mont St. Michel adventure was over and time for the next leg of our journey.

But wait, one more photo is needed!!!!!!! Yep, that’s right. we took an NBC mug shot and will be sending it in to NBC.

Don’t know there will be a third night on the island, but I have enjoyed all of my visits.


Two stories of Heroism on D-Day

There are hundreds of stories concerning D-Day and a number of movies that continue the storytelling, but we visited some sites that stayed with me. There are so many memorials and monuments that it’s hard to go very far without coming across another one. Many of the small villages we drove through had their own memorials they created and continue to maintain – not on any list or website, but past actions were still honored. Here are my two.

Richard D. Winters

He parachuted with the 101st Division during the Normandy invasion and lost his gun during the drop. Regardless he gathered the men together and therein learned he was the highest remaining officer and at that point took command.

He led an attack with formidable efficiency to neutralize the enemy guns and also got his hands on a map detailing the location of German weapons. He was also well-liked by his men, sometimes at the cost of his career and commander. A few stories exist where his commanders felt threatened and tried to get him removed and/or demoted.

For the remainder of the war, he rose in rank and was a part of numerous battles. General Omar Bradley presented him the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions. Stories persist of his actions during the war that demonstrated his leadership, fearlessness and efficient planning that his men relied upon and subsequently followed him.

His Command considered him indispensable to his men and kept him in Europe to supervise the demobilization of his men. He agreed to his likeness for the statue, but insisted it be dedicated to all the men who landed on D-Day, not to any one person.


The small actions at these 85+ft cliffs were given the name of Pont-du-Hoc and conducted by the US Rangers.

This area was fortified by the Germans and reconnaissance indicated heavy artillery pieces with a range that would threaten the two landing beaches. It was considered essential to knock them out of service as soon as possible.

The Rangers were founded one year earlier and truly had baptism by fire with the invasion of Normandy.

Earlier reconnaissance indicated a large German fortification with guns that had a range threatening the two landing beaches. It was deemed essential to knock these out of service as soon as possible. Before landing the Allied bombers made three waves of runs, dropping 500lb bombs that later discovered were insufficient for piercing the shelters. Here’s a short video of the serenity in existence during our visit, which was abruptly interrupted that morning.

Their objective was to land on the beach, climb the cliffs and destroy the German artillery, firing a flare at 7am upon completion. I wasn’t surprised to read that navigation errors, strong current and smoke along with the loss of one of the landing craft delayed their operation more than 40 minutes. Hence no flare or reinforcements.

Upon reaching the top it was discovered there were only dummy guns. Two rangers went on a reconnaissance and upon seeing skid marks in the mud discovered the new location and neutralized the guns. The rangers hunkered down overnight but reached a critical point. The western flank was overrun, and 20 rangers stayed behind so 50 comrades could escape – and the 20 were captured by the Germans.

What the bombs didn’t destroy, time and weather took its toll on the location as seen below.

The area is littered with concrete pieces across the landscape.

225 Rangers began this mission and afterwards 90 were able to continue the invasion after the landing.

I found this quote in the visitor center and thought it was fitting.