The exhibition centre at Souchez aims to provide all visitors who wander the Nord-Pas-de-Calais’ Remembrance Trails, whatever their nationality, with accurate and clear historical information that will allow them to gain an overall understanding of the events of the Great War in our region.
Visitors can then go on to discover several inspiring and emotional places of remembrance, which can all be found within a radius of thirty or so kilometres from Souchez.
The Canadians fought relentlessly on the Artois Front from October 1914 to November 1918. The Vimy Memorial, located on the lip of the ridge which dominates the old coalfield, is one of the most important memorial sites for this young nation. Established on the site of a historic victory for the Canadian divisions, who were fighting together for the first time, it bears the names of 11,000 soldiers who were lost in action at Flanders and Artois and whose bodies were either not recovered or unidentifiable.
This gigantic edifice of white limestone, on which are a number of statues evoking the suffering of Canadian society in the wake of the death of thousands of young men, far from home, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful war memorials erected on the Western Front.
The French State wanted people’s emotions to be roused at the sight of the losses suffered during the Great War. They created vast cemeteries, placing thousands of tombs in line with one another to give a sense of the scale of death.
Notre-Dame-de-Lorette French National War Cemetery :
Pas-de-Calais Archives Department :
Even before the beginning of the First World War, the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette hill was already an important place of pilgrimage because of the chapel standing at its summit.
Dominating the surrounding plains and the Pas-de-Calais coalfields, the northern flank of the Artois plateau constituted a strategically important location from October 1914 to the end of the conflict.
Like everywhere on the Western Front, German troops occupied the high points from the moment positional warfare began, which forced the allies to launch attacks costing dearly in human life to take back the high ground.
French units were the most involved in Artois from December 1914 to October 1915. From February 1916, the start of the German offensive at Verdun meant British troops had to take over.
The plateau of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette was held by the Germans from 5 October 1914. The tactical advantage provided by this 165 m natural promontory was undeniable : it allowed the Germans to dominate the Arras area and block access to the coalfields. For more than twelve months, the Lorette hill became a theatre of violent conflict between French and German soldiers. Losses for this period are estimated at 100 000.
In the aftermath of the war, it was decided that a vast cemetery of some 27 hectares would be created on the ‘plateau sanglant’ (bloody plateau), expanding on a temporary cemetery that had been established in 1915. Notre-Dame-de-Lorette is now home to the largest French military cemetery. Over 40,000 French soldiers are buried here, including 22,000 unknown soldiers in the eight ossuaries. The remains were taken from over 150 cemeteries along the Artois, Flanders and Yser Fronts; a separate Muslim plot contains the graves of 550 North African soldiers.
From the Eastier weekend to the end of November, every sunday at 10.00 am an communion service take place in the basilica.
German military cemeteries :
German remembrance is expressed through its vast war cemeteries, where large trees stand vigil over the soldiers’ tombs. These cemeteries are either those established near the large military hospitals of Nord’s occupied towns or those of immense scale which were created after the conflict for the burial of remains from various sites. The Maison Blanche cemetery comes under the latter category and is located in La Targette, Neuville Saint Vaast. It is the biggest German cemetery in France, with 45,000 tombs.