From the Ypres Salient to the Crucible of the Somme
(Four day battlefield tour of the Somme and Ypres Salient)
Ypres was known as ‘Wipers’ to the British troops and was more or less destroyed during the four years of war. The Cloth Hall ruins stood as a defiant iconic landmark to the passing troops on their way to the front. It was lovingly restored to its prior image with the aid of repatriation money. It now stands as a beacon of pilgrimage to those who never returned home. The cemeteries of Ypres and its memorials, notably the Menin Gate, are testimony to the thousands of soldiers who died during this great conflict and have no known grave.
The beautiful rolling landscape of the Somme was originally a quiet live and let live sector for the British and German troops prior to July 1916. However, all this was to change with the build up and launch of one of the largest battles in history. The area was shelled for a solid seven days with the aim of shifting the Germans from their well dug entrenchments and fortifications. At 7.30am on the morning of the 1st July the soldiers of the British army went over the top to what they assumed would be certain victory. But by the end of the day British and Empire losses had totalled 19,240 dead and 57,470 casualties. It was indeed the bloodiest day for the British Army.
Day One: Depart by coach from your chosen UK collection point and proceed to Dover for our channel crossing by ferry and then on to Ypres to check in to the Albion Hotel (located in the centre of Ypres). With the rest of the day at your leisure, you can explore this historic and beautiful town visiting St Martin’s Cathedral and St George’s Chapel and finishing at the Menin Gate. Then enjoy a meal and one of the famous Belgium beers in the stunning Grote Markt before taking in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate.
Day Two: The morning sees us travel down to the Somme where we commence our battlefield tour at Delville Wood, ground that was hard fought over by the South African Brigade. We then travel along the Longueval Ridge to Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, past High Wood and on to the smallest wood on the Somme; Mametz Wood contested by the 38th Welsh Division, visiting the stunning Welsh Dragon Memorial which faces the wood. We then move on to Devonshire Trench, a place that is forever England. Lunch is taken at a local tea room (lunch included in price).
The afternoon takes us to the northern sector of the battlefield where we can stand in the Sunken Lane where the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers waited to advance on the morning of the 1st July 1916. A stroll around Newfoundland Park with its preserved trenches brings the futility of the battle to one’s senses. After stopping at the Ulster Tower we shall pay our respects to the missing of the Somme at Thiepval Memorial and spend some time at their visitor centre. Finally we view the largest British mine crater on the Western Front; Lochnagar. As well as the above sites there will be a number of impromptu stops along the way where the guide will bring the battle so vividly to life.
Day Three: Covering the Ypres Salient we begin our tour with a visit to Gheluvelt where the 2nd Worcesters’ bayonet charge restored the line at a crucial time during First Ypres. We then spend some time at the Passchendaele Memorial Museum. This excellent museum with its reconstructed German and British trenches will give you a good idea of the conditions faced by the soldiers of the Great War. The Ypres Salient contains 120 cemeteries and we visit the largest British War Cemetery in the world, Tyne Cot with 11,956 graves. We then move on to look at Third Ypres, Passchendaele and the Canadian Memorial at Crest Farm. From here we visit Vancouver Corner and the Brooding Soldier memorial to the 1st Canadian Division. This area was the scene of the first gas attacks in 1915 which culminated in the start of the Second Battle of Ypres. Then we travel on to the German Cemetery at Langemark before taking lunch at the Hooge Crater Café and Museum (lunch and museum entrance fee included in price).
The afternoon will see us look at Hill 60 and Ploegsteert (Plugstreet) where we discuss the Christmas Truce that took place here in 1914 before moving on to see the Ploegsteert Memorial. From here we wonder across the Messines Ridge over the ground the 16th and 36th Irish divisions attacked on the 7th June 1917.
We end the day in Ypres where we will take in the haunting Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate where Rifleman Tours will lay a wreath to the fallen on behalf of the group.
Day Four: On the final day before heading for the port we will take a look ‘behind the lines’ and visit Essex Farm Cemetery with its Advanced Dressing Station, Brandhoek Military Cemetery and finish at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery and visitor centre.
Ruins of the Cloth Hall, Ypres
The Cloth Hall fully restored