ARRAS

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Arras; a tour of the Arras battlefileds

The Battle of Arras in 1917 was Britain’s contribution to the major Allied Spring offensive of that year. The British Army had learned some very costly lessons on the Somme in 1916 and, using new tactics, British forces achieved a great deal of success on the first day of the battle, 9 April 1917. The most spectacular of these successes was the capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Corps. However, the battle developed into a stalemate and eventually saw the highest British daily casualty rate of the whole war. A major complex of tunnels was created for the battle, sections of which can be visited today.

These are just some examples of sites which can be included in an Arras tour; however, there are many more:

Vimy Ridge

The Ridge gives commanding views over the surrounding area and had been held by the Germans since 1914. The Canadian attack on the Ridge was one of the most successful operations of World War 1. This is a fascinating site where the visitor can see preserved trenches, take a tour of the tunnels and see the magnificent Canadian memorial to the missing.

The Ring of Remembrance

This monument was erected as part of the 1914 Centenary and is an essential site on any visit to the area. The monument lists nearly 600,000 service personnel of all nations known to have died in this region of France during World War 1 and whose names are engraved on a massive ring of engraved bronze panels. The Ring is one of the most stunning sites of any tour. Next to the memorial is the French National Cemetery of Notre Dame de Lorette, containing the graves of 40,000 men. Thirty-two unknown soldiers lie in coffins at the foot of the memorial tower under a guard of honour, where the visitor can file past in silence in what never fails to be a moving experience.

The Arras Memorial to the Missing

This memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is one of the most striking and magnificent of the First World War memorials and bears the names of nearly 35,000 men from the UK, South Africa and New Zealand killed in the Arras area in 1916 and 1917. The Royal Flying Corps suffered some of the highest losses of the war during The Battle of Arras and this is also the site of the World War 1 flying services memorial. The leading British flying ace, Edward “Mick” Mannock is commemorated here.

Monchy le Preux

This village was a key objective on the first day of The Battle of Arras, although it was not captured until the third day. It was the site of the only cavalry charge of the battle and, looking from Monchy British Cemetery today across the open ground to the village, it is not difficult to imagine the scene. The village was captured by the British 37th Division and the division’s monument, of three soldiers standing back to back, is one of the most moving on the World War 1 battlefields. Also in the village is the memorial to the Newfoundland Regiment; following a failed attack on the German lines, ten men from the Regiment successfully defended the village for four hours in one of the most remarkable incidents of the war.

The Wellington Tunnels

The system of tunnels beneath Arras dates back to the Middle Ages. The system was greatly extended by the British during the First World War for The Battle of Arras. The Wellington Tunnels were part of this system, developed from the original tunnels  by New Zealand engineers, and can be visited on paying an entrance fee. This is a fascinating and highly atmospheric site, where visitors can still see soldiers’ graffiti and the debris of their occupation. To stand at the foot of the stairs that ran directly into the British front lines, one can imagine soldiers climbing the steep steps to attack the German lines on the morning of 9 April 1917, and  is one of the most chilling experiences of any tour.