Though the Somme weighs heavy at the top of most people’s lists of memorable, infamous battles that took place during WWI, it is often the case that the many other battles that took place on the western front are overshadowed. Thankfully, there are many tour companies and operators out there that go beyond the short-sighted Somme approach: they offer tours of a variety of battlegrounds that comprised the western front. Let’s not forget the conflict at Loos, the devastating battles at Ypres (marking the first use of chemical weapons during warfare), and the Battle of Verdun, all had an impact on the war effort itself as well as the troops that fought in it, so it is the purpose of this article to cover the lesser-known World War I battlefield tours available.
Gallipoli Battlefields (VisitBattlefields.co.uk)
Battlefield tours rarely come more extensive in experience and expansive in scope than VisitBattlefields’ Gallipoli Battlefields Tour. This is a 7-day epic adventure that involves what could be seen as a hectic (yet fulfilling) itinerary, that takes its subjects from the Gallipoli Landing Beaches to Lone Pine Memorial and Cemetery, right through to Shrapnel Valley and Suvla Bay. These oft-forgotten places of interest were vital to the war effort in Europe, yet are sadly overlooked by a majority of battlefield walkers who choose the Somme tours instead, which are admittedly in more noticeable abundance.
This tour begins in Istanbul where you’ll settle in for your first night, followed by the real beginning of the tour on Day 2 where you’ll get to experience Gallipolo, and Day 3 which involves viewing the landing sites in Gallipoli. The rest of the tour then focuses on ANZAC’s contribution to WWI, as well as Suvla Bay and various cemeteries.
This is an extensive 7-day tour that will cost you £995, but the 8-Day option is also available on the Visit Battlefields Gallipoli page, which costs only £1145. These are both relatively small prices to pay considering the level of historical detail of the tours as well as the historical significance of the locations visited.
Doomed Youth – In the Footsteps of the Poets (Single Step Tours)
This tour had to be included on this list because of its innovative approach to shaping your battlefield experience. Instead of chronological arrangement or arbitrary choice of locations/days, this tour splits the 3-day experience according to the most famous war poets and their experiences.
Each day of this 3-day tour is dedicated to different poets, with Day 1 dedicated to Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon. The first day involves having lunch in Arras and visiting the Devonshire Cemetery, the New Citadel Cemetery, Mametz Wood, and Bazentin. Day 2 and 3 focus on Wilfred Owen’s writings and experiences, from Les Carrieres to Owen’s grave on Day 3. This tour is also available from Singlesteptours.com.
Up to Wipers – A tour of the Western Front round Ypres (Single Step Tours)
While many of the top-rated tours you’ll find on google cater for large groups, it can be easy to lose the personal touch when shuffling around with larger groups of people. This is why Up to Wipers has been chosen for inclusion here, due to its extremely small group size. There is an option for larger groups, but the smaller-group option is inevitably the more enjoyable choice.
The other main advantage is that instead of the usual focus on the Somme, this battlefield tour’s approach is much more focused on the section of the western front around Ypres. The three battles of Ypres were all devastating in their own way, but this tour holds more significance when one hears about the first use of chemical weapons at the second battle (mustard and tear gas to be precise).
Expect to be stunned by Essex Farm Cemetery, in awe of the Yorkshire Trench, and moved by the In Flanders Fields Museum. There’s no standard flat price available on the Singlesteptours.com website, but if you visit the Single Step Tours Up to Wipers page, you can obtain a quote tailored to your own specifications.
Crimson Coast (Leger Holidays)
This is the tour you should go on if you’re interested in experiencing some of the more underrepresented aspects of WWI. The French Coastline, or the Crimson Coast as it came infamously known, was the site of hundreds of thousands of men’s injuries and demise.
This tour takes a look not only at the memorials and battlefields, but also informs the subjects about other less-known aspect of WWI, such as the role of women during the war and how foreign labour was used in the war effort. There’s also a close look at day to day life in the trenches, and accommodation is included in the tour price, which averages at around £389pp for an impressive 5-day tour. You can book online here: http://www.leger.co.uk/battlefields/tours/crimson-coast
Bruges & Battlefields of Flanders (Shearings Holidays)
Another excellent tour for those wishing to see the lesser-known side of WWI on a budget is Shearings Holidays’ Bruges & Battlefields of Flanders tour. This is a coach tour that certainly covers some of the Somme locations in its latter days, but its stand-out aspect is the visit to Passchendaele Memorial Museum in Bruges. Moreover, this tour involves being present when the Last Post is initiated at the Menin Gate, making it a more unique experience than most.
Based on 2 people, this tour can cost from £386 and departs from a variety of locations in England. More information about the tour’s events and also availability can be found by following this link: http://www.shearings.com/holidays/bruges-battlefields-of-flanders.