Remembering the Great War: Tracing World War I from France
Explore battlefields, military cemeteries, World War I museums, memorials, and monuments, as you trace the footsteps of those who sacrificed so much.
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The years 2014 to 2018 mark the 100th anniversary of World War I, a conflict that became known as the Great War. Followed by another war that was just as terrible, these four years still rank as some of the most tragic–and most heroic–in modern history. The German invasion and the Battle of the Frontiers in August 1914 left Belgium, France, and England fighting for their existence, with Paris saved only by the courageous stand of the French and English at the Marne. As both sides raced to the sea, the trenches quickly spread across the landscape from the English Channel to Switzerland. For four years the war raged across Flanders, Picardy, Champagne, and the Ile de France.
Join us as we travel from the great cathedral city of Reims to Paris to explore some of the most important sites of the Great War. Follow the battles of the Somme and the Marne, and explore Verdun, where the French withstood the German assault throughout the war. Learn how the might of more than two million American soldiers began to turn the tide at places such as St. Mihiel, Belleau Wood, and the Marne. Along the way, visit battlefields, military cemeteries, World War I museums, memorials, and monuments, as you walk in the footsteps of the brave people who sacrificed so much.
Day 1 — Depart the U.S for Paris
Day 2 — Arrive Paris, Compiègne, Reims
Arrive Paris and transfer by private bus to the cathedral city of Reims. En route visit the reconstructed railroad car in the woods of Compiègne, France, where at 5 a.m. on November 11, 1918, the armistice that ended World War I was signed. After checking into the hotel in Reims, get to know the city on a walking tour to the 800-year-old Cathedral of Notre-Dame, known for its abundance of sculptured figures and its magnificent tapestries. The cathedral was severely damaged by German shellfire in 1914 and became a symbol of the destruction of the Great War. This evening, gather for a welcome reception and dinner at a local restaurant. (R,D)
Day 3 — Reims, Battle of the Somme
On July 1, 1916, Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the British commander, launched an attack along the Somme River to relieve pressure on the French fighting at Verdun. Lasting more than four months, the Battle of the Somme was one of the largest battles of World War I, with more than a million men wounded or killed. Begin at the Museum of the Great War (Historial de la Guerre) in Chateau Peronne for an excellent overview; then, visit many locations associated with the Battle of the Somme, including Beaumont-Hamel, Thiepval, La Boiselle (site of the Lochnagar crater), and the Mametz Wood Memorial. Continue on to Cantigny, where a monument commemorates the first offensive operation by a large American unit, and the American Military Cemetery at Bony, where many of those who fought in the area are buried. (B)
Day 4 — Reims, First and Second Battles of the Marne
During the Battle of the Frontiers the French and British armies were driven back to within 30 miles of Paris. In those desperate days of early September 1914, the German onslaught was finally contained at the Marne River. The Allies quickly counterattacked, and with the help of General Galliéni’s “Taxi Brigade,” drove the Germans back across the Aisne River west of Reims. Four years later, in 1918 the Valley of the Marne again became a battlefield, with Americans fighting at Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood. Trace these and other dramatic events at various locations associated with the First and Second Battles of the Marne. Visit the magnificent Chateau-Thierry American monument overlooking the Marne Valley, and walk through the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. On the hillside above the cemetery sits the lovely Romanesque Belleau Chapel, its walls inscribed with the names of more than a thousand Americans whose remains were never recovered or identified. Nearby is a German military cemetery, which presents quite a contrast to the American memorials. Return to Reims for an evening at leisure. (B)
Day 5 — Reims, Verdun
Check out of the hotel in Reims and drive through the Meuse-Argonne region to the spectacular Pennsylvania Memorial in Varennes-en-Argonne. The massive Greek-style monument was erected by the state of Pennsylvania in honor of its sons who gave their lives in France. Visit the nearby Argonne Museum for a curator-led tour of its American weapons, uniforms, and private collections. Stop by the Missouri First World War Monument at Cheppy, then continue on to the US Meuse-Argonne Military Cemetery, the largest American military cemetery in Europe with 14,276 war dead.
Next up is Verdun, where from 1914 to 1918 France withstood the might of the German army. Explore the battered and sacred French battlefields and forts of the area, beginning with a visit to the Verdun Memorial and museum, along with the adjacent vanished village of Fleury-devant-Douaumont. Continue on to Fort Douaumont for a guided tour of the fortified bastion and the underground casements. Finally, visit the Douaumont Ossuary, which contains the remains of both French and German soldiers, before checking into the hotel in Verdun for a two-night stay. (B)
Day 6 — Verdun
The reduction of the St. Mihiel Salient, which threatened Paris, in September 1918 was one of the most important and successful American campaigns in World War I. Under the leadership of General John J. Pershing, later military leaders such as George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton all made their mark. Meet with the Mayor of St. Mihiel (if available) to gain an understanding of what it was like to live through these great battles.
At the majestic U.S. Memorial at Montsec, view a bronze relief map illustrating the military operations that took place at St. Mihiel. In the nearby town of Thiaucourt, captured by the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division during the St. Mihiel offensive, explore some of the small villages where fierce fighting took place. Return to Verdun for an evening at leisure. (B)
Day 7 — Verdun, Paris
Return west along the Marne to visit the newly opened Museé de la Grande Guerre at Meaux, whose extensive exhibits will provide a unifying perspective on all that we have seen and experienced. Continue on to Paris and visit the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial, commemorating the American volunteers – our first combat pilots – who served in the French forces before the United States officially entered the war. This evening, gather for a farewell dinner in one of Paris’s fine restaurants. (B,R,D)
Day 8 — Paris/Departure
Transfer to Charles de Gaulle International Airport for individual flights home. (B)