Western Front to Normandy Tour
Join our team led by Colonel Steve Larkins on this memorial tour to France and Belgium to visit the battlefields of the Western Front and the Normandy Campaign. This is a special tour developed for a very special purpose that we hope will, in a small way, make sure that those who fell on the Western Front and at Normandy are truly remembered.
Experience the Somme Region, Ypres Salient and the Normandy battlefields , visit war cemeteries and memorials with expert commentary at significant locations. Locate, visit and pay your respects at that particular site that is dear to your family or friends. Meet the local dignitaries who maintain our military heritage.
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12 September - PARIS: This is the day when we gather at our Paris hotel and are met by our Tour Leader. The remainder of the day and evening is free to relax and meet other guests for tomorrow we head north into The Somme.
13 September - PARIS to PERONNE: We will depart the hotel at 0830, heading north to our first stop, Compeigne, scene of the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, and 22 years later the surrender of France to another invading German Army on 25 June 1940.
Our next stop is the beautiful provincial city of Arras. There are three key points of interest.
The Wellington Quarries, only opened to the public in 2008, give us a glimpse of 'The Underground War' of 1914-18, so vividly described in Sebastian Faux's novel 'Birdsong'. Kiwi tunnellers joined up a series of underground limestone quarries to create a safe haven for over 25,000 British troops in the lead up to the Arras Offensive of early 1917, unobserved and safe from German artillery.
Arras is known for its two spectacular squares. Lunch here under your own arrangements in one of the many bars and restaurants.
The Citadel is a 17th Century star-shaped Vauban fortress. In a portion of its former moat is the melancholy Le Mur des Fusilee, literally the 'Wall of the Shot'. The Nazis executed 218 Resistance members here in WW2, between 1941 and 1944.
We will then head for Peronne, our base for the next few days on the north bank of the Somme River and home of the excellent L' Historial museum. The town of Peronne was liberated by the Australian Corps on 2 September 1917, as evident by signs such as the famous 'Rue de Kanga'. Dinner in the Hotel. B/D
14 September - THE SOMME: To introduce the Australian Western Front experience we will visit the newly opened Sir John Monash Centre at Villers Bretonneux. Then a very busy day as we will visit most of the areas of the 1916 battles including; Beaumont Hamel, Theipval, La Boiselle and 'La Grand Mine' Lochnagar, Pozieres, Mouquet Farm area. Return to Peronne and a visit to L'Historial around the corner from our hotel, where we will regroup for dinner. B/Boxed Lunch/D
15 September - THE SOMME: Monash-Advance to Victory 1918. We will firstly head over to Dernancourt where the German advance of March 1918 was halted and then follow the 1918 Campaign as far as Peronne.
After Dernancourt we head to Villers-Bretonneaux to visit The Adelaide Cemetery and then the Museum above the School and the Australian National Memorial. Lunch on the road and then moving further West we visit Le Hamel, Heath Cemetery and Proyart before heading to Mont St Quentin, a special victory then on to our hotel for dinner. B/Boxed Lunch/D
16 September - THE SOMME: "To the Last Ridge" 1918: Today's visits will take us further to the west, to the last ridge where the Australians fought before through their last village coming out of the line on 5 October 1918. The Hindenburgh Line, Bellenglise, Bellicourt, the Riqueval Canal and High Tree Cemetery at Montbrehain will be visited before special visits to the American Cemetery at Bony and the German Cemetery at Maissemy. Following our last visits in this part of the Somme area we will head back to our hotel for dinner for tomorrow we head north towards Ieper. B/Boxed Lunch/D.
17 September - THE SOMME to IEPER: Today we bid farewell to the Somme and head for Belgium. 1917 was to be the worst year on the Western Front for the Australians. In early 1917 the Germans surprised the Allies by withdrawing to a new defensive line. Our first stop, Noreuil was one of "the Outpost Villages" the Australians had to clear before the 'main event' at nearby Bullecourt in early 1917. The AIF fought two major battles here as part of the "Arras Offensive" in an attempt to break the new German line. We will overlook the battlefield and visit "The Digger" memorial.
Then we will head further north past Arras to Vimy Ridge, and the spectacular Canadian National Memorial. This is an expansive park and the battlefield is preserved as it was in 1918.
Next stop the melancholy battlefield at Fromelles, before visiting Pheasant Wood cemetery and museum. The cemetery is the newest on the Western Front, opened in 2010. Our final leg will take us to our base for the next few days, Ieper (Ypres in WW1) but known universally to the Diggers as "Wipers". We will have dinner in our Hotel before a short walk to witness the Last Post ceremony at Menin Gate. B/Boxed Lunch/D.
Wednesday 18 September - IEPER: The first of our two (2) days touring the Ieper Salient battles.
Our first call will be to visit Hill 60, the northernmost of the mines fired in the Messines operation and featured in the movie, Beneath Hill 60. Then south to the battlefield of Messines Ridge. Nearby it's on to Ploegsteert Wood, via Prowse Point - scene of the 1914 XMAS Truce. Toronto Avenue Cemetery is located within the Wood. It is the only all-Australian cemetery in Belgium. Through the Wood passed much of the Third Division on their way to the start line for the attack.
Making any relevant cemetery visits we will work our way around to Lissjenthoek Hospital Cemetery, There is an excellent interpretive centre explaining the handling of the vast number of casualties sustained in the Ypres salient. We will return to Ieper via Poperinge. Free time in Ieper. Walk along the wall, quiet reflection around Menin gate, Cloth Hall museum. Belgian chocolates and beer. B/Boxed Lunch/D.
19 September - IEPER: Our last day in the Ieper Salient for tomorrow we head to Normandy for the last leg of our tour. We will head out to the battlefields of Menin Road, Polygon Wood via Hooge Crater and then around to Zonnebeke.
A so-called 'great mystery of the AIF' myth was recently debunked around Celtic Wood. Dochy Farm Cemetery is a good location to view the start line for the assault on Passchendaele.
Then we will visit Tyne Cot cemetery, the largest Commonwealth Cemetery on the Western Front. It sits on ground captured by the Australians and the Cross of Sacrifice is built over a German blockhouse, overlooking the site where Sgt McIntyre won his VC. We can again attend the Menin Gate ceremony this evening. B/Boxed Lunch/D.
20 September - IEPER to NORMANDY: We say farewell to Ieper as we head west to Saint Omer and then south west towards Normandy. Today we will be travelling quite a distance but with much to see before we arrive at our hotel in the Normandy area. B/ Boxed Lunch/D
21 September - NORMANDY: Today we have the full day in the region and visit, Sword Beach, Pegasus Bridge, Strong Point Hillman, Caen and the Memorial Museum and more. B/Boxed Lunch/D
22 September - NORMANDY: Another full day in the region where this most important landing onto Germany's Fortress Europe was the pivotal point that ensured final victory against Germany. However there was still much to do and when Hitler relented and allowed his armoured divisions to counterattack after midday, elements of the 21st Panzer Division drove into the gap between the British 3rd and Canadian 3rd divisions at Sword Beach and Juno Beach and almost reached the sea. Had they done so, the landings might have failed. Fierce resistance by British antitank gunners at Périers-sur-le-Dan turned the tide in late evening. As part of our day in the region we hope to visit the site of this action. B/ Boxed Lunch/D
23 September - NORMANDY: We stay in the region to visit many more historical sites including Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Port-En-Bassie and the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Bayeux. After another very memorable day we return to our hotel for a well deserved drink before dinner in our hotel. Tomorrow our tour group disperses. B/Boxed Lunch/D
24 September - Normandy to Paris: This morning after breakfast in our hotel our coach will be returning most to Paris. Paris would be an ideal location to plan to travel on, CDG or Eurostar to London. Otherwise one can hire a car at Bayeux or Caen for individual travel. B
Your Tour Leader Colonel Steve Larkins OAM
Colonel Steve Larkins served 30+ years with the Australian Army. He has hosted battlefield tours since 2008. Steve's military knowledge and familiarity with the sites you will visit is extensive.