In April 2011, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Regional Council signed an agreement with the Ministry of Defence to launch a programme aimed at highlighting sites of remembrance, and in particular the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette National War Cemetery, as part of the centenary commemorations of the Great War.
Alongside the creation of the Anneau de la Mémoire (Ring of Remembrance), the Lens-Liévin area has led important works of remembrance and has upgraded the major sites within its boundaries.
Lens-Liévin Agglomeration Community undertook to build a large exhibition centre, a unique facility in the region, with the aim of raising awareness and informing the public (locals and visitors from all countries). It is an essential and unique link in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Remembrance Trails network. The total surface area of 1,200 m² is split between a 600 m² permanent exhibition area, a presentation/meeting room for up to 50 people, a remembrance room in which to research the names engraved on the Ring of Remembrance (military records for soldiers of all nationalities who fell in the region) and an information area on remembrance tourism.
These new facilities linked to the symbolic sites of the Great War, which are less than ten kilometres away, make Lens’ 14-18 the perfect gateway for visitors wishing to commemorate or learn more about the First World War in Artois and French Flanders.
The committee brought together experts from France, Britain, Belgium and Germany, and was led by Yves Le Maner, Associate Professor of History and eminent expert in both world wars.
The members of the committee were as follows :
- Piet Chielens, Director of the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres
- William Philpott, Professor at King’s College, London
- François Cochet, Professor at the University of Lorraine
- Alain Jacques, Director of the Archaeological Department at Arras Town Council
- Arndt Weinrich, Researcher at the German Historical Institute, Paris
The displays were researched by Mr. Yves Le Maner with the help of Mr Yann Hodicq and Mr. David Pierru, appointed by the Lens-Liévin Agglomeration Community. They also produced the cartographic support. The texts for the Exhibition Centre (panels, audioguides) were written by the president of the expert committee.
The Souchez museum’s displays are built around a historical programme which is at once broad, clear, detailed and accessible for both the general public and students (secondary school, college, university). They tell a coherent account of the events which struck the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region between 1914 and 1918.
The displays presented at Souchez’s exhibition centre use photographic and cinematic images as their principle source of documentary information. Over 5,000 archive photographs have been acquired from thirty or so different public centres around the world (France, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia); in addition, photographs taken by soldiers on all sides have been kindly provided by private collections.
There are nearly 400 large photos on display. They are treated as documents in their own right, not as illustrations: each has been dated and placed geographically and has then been analysed and contextualised within the overall account. Several excerpts from silent films are also shown in their original format. There are presentation notes to accompany them. They show the situation on the Front (the wounded, prisoners, reinforcements), the German presence in the occupied zone and the scale of destruction
The exhibition centre at Souchez has also accorded a place to the display of artefacts borrowed from private collections and national museums, some of which were discovered during excavations of the trenches around Arras, led by Alain Jacques.
These artefacts are not displayed as a fixed collection but as aids to understanding, helping visitors to grasp the deadly power of weaponry or the importance of logistics for the hundreds of thousands of soldiers stationed on the Western Front.