WASHINGTON, November 13, 2013 — War changes civilizations, and World War I – the “Great War” – was the first to have a global reach. It was the “war to end all wars,” but World War II obscured memory of it.
That is changing with next year’s centenary of the first war. Its breakout occurred August 4, 1914, and it did not end until Armistice Day, November 11, 1918.
Events, tours by commercial operators, and exhibitions around the world are planned in many locations, especially Europe. Red poppies – a symbol of those losses that dates to the 1920s – are appearing everywhere on souvenir items and events. Organizers say they want the centenary not to have an “us and them” tone, but remembrances of the great losses and lessons of the war for all.
Next June 6 is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the day the Allies began liberation of Europe on France’s Normandy beaches. Many tours and events are also planned for that anniversary.
People visit battlefields, war museums, and monuments for different reasons. Many wish to visit the resting place of an ancestor, or they are curious about sites that figured in films or books they’ve seen or read. For many, standing in the places where the wars happened has a spiritual message that changes them.
Whatever the motivation, new museums, tours and events are available to the traveler who
wishes to contemplate the causes and effects of the 20th century’s biggest wars: wars that claimed about 100 million military and civilian lives.
Museum launch sites
Museums about the 20th century’s major wars are located in countries that participated in the struggles. They are great launching places for tours and studies of the causes, conduct, and conclusions of the massive conflicts. Here are some to note:
The National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City
www.theworldwar.org is the U.S. site that endeavors to present visitors with the causes and impact of the Great War on all nations that participated. For the centenary, there will be programs and activities through 2018 and beyond that will explore the war, its aftermath, and peace process.
Opened in 2006 beneath the Liberty Memorial to war dead that dates to the 1920s, the museum welcomes visitors to its subterranean galleries where the war is chronicled before and after U.S. involvements. Visitors access the museum by crossing a glass bridge above a field of 9,000 red poppies, each one representing 1,000 World War battle deaths.
New exhibits in 2014 include: On the Brink (March – September), showing color postcard images of cities before the war; Over By Christmas (May – April, 2015) explores the romantic expectations vs. the grim reality of a global war; The Volunteers: Americans Join WWI, 1914-1919 (October – March 2015) explores volunteerism in Europe before and after American entered the war. Consult the museum website for information about programs, conferences, and symposia.
Imperial War Museums: London will open its new First World War Galleries in July. They will display artifacts in one of the most comprehensive collections about the war, including uniforms, diaries, letters, and souvenirs. Photographs, art, film are also included. Interactive digital displays will engage visitors deeper into the war stories and its impact. IMF also operates the Cabinet War Rooms: the London bunker museum from where Winston Churchill directed the war effort.
The London museums are excellent launching points for battlefield tours on the continent.
Musee de la Grande Guerre: A new museum in Meaux, France 25 miles from the center of Paris, has a comprehensive collection of artifacts that were collected from WWI battlefields after the war by a local farmer. Exhibits chronicle events and attitudes from the 1870s until the early 1900s that led to the outbreak of the Great War.
Flanders Fields Museum: Belgium’s newest contribution to scholarship surrounding WWI is this new museum
Utah Beach Landing Museum is the best stop on the Normandy coast for understanding what the Allies had to achieve on D-Day, (according to European travel expert Rick Steves). There are museums, monuments, cemeteries, and battlefield remains left in tribute to the Allied armies along 75 miles of that coast where one of history’s most ambitious assaults occurred June 6, 1944. Thousands of white crosses and Stars of David on these shores leave lasting impressions on most who visit.
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans is sponsoring a 10-day D-Day anniversary float with Silverseas Cruises that will feature a group of renowned historians and author Tom Brokaw. Other tours with historians, authors, and academics are also on the museum roster. This museum was designated by the U.S. Congress as the official repository of scholarship and exhibits about the American experience in WWII, and its causes and meaning for today.
The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA is a tribute that anytime visitors find arresting. And the 70th anniversary weekend on June 6-8, 2014 it will reach new heights of tribute, as D-Day veterans, dignitaries, and others recall the day that began the end of WWII in Europe.
An outdoor movie night and canteen with a 1940s theme will happen Friday night after the commemoration ceremonies, and on Saturday, a D-Day parade will honor the town’s 19 who were killed on June 6, 1944. A field chapel service will be held on Sunday. The U.S. Congress chose the small town of Bedford to represent all American communities, large and small, because it suffered the greatest losses proportionately by population on D-Day than any other.
Touring the sites
Independent and customized touring as well as commercial, organized tours of battlefields and associated sites are available from many tour operators around the world, including Tauck, Trafalgar, Smithsonian Journeys, and Globus.
For touring diversity and more cultural experiences in regions where battles occurred, travelers may wish to include non-war sites such as Mont St. Michel, and Bayeaux Tapestry in northern France reflecting other aspects of history, including religious heritage.
WWI and WWII information
Websites with comprehensive information on tours, events and history include these:
www.greatwar.co.uk – this comprehensive portal is a one-stop information source about tours, events, museums, and other information related to the centenary. It honors family members who fought in the war.
www.centenaire.org – events and projects surrounding the anniversary.
www.1914.org – website of The First World War Centenary Partnership, a network of 1,800 international cultural and educational organizations led by London’s Imperial War Museums.
www.centenarynews.com – news and articles
www.europeana1914-1918.eu – personal stories and documents collected for an online library.
www.abmc.gov – WWI and WWII interactive timelines and other information by the American Battle Monuments Commission, keeper of America’s overseas cemeteries and memorials. Good source for researching ancestors who may be buried abroad.
www.miltours.com – Based in the Washington, DC region, Military Historical Tours has been run for over 25 years by retired military men who offer tours to the “trenches of WWI and the hedgerows of Normandy.”
www.elbobus.com – Elbobus Trailways in the Netherlands assists travelers with group and individual war sites tours as well as hotel bookings and transportation.
Read more of Ruth Hill’s travel columns in Contemporary Christian Travel in the Washington Times Communities.
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