100 years on, there are so many ways to look back on the First World War.
You can read the chilling statistics – quoted in black and white, showing the number of shells fired and the number of people killed.
You can study the photographs – images of men casually rolling cigarettes during a break in the fighting. Soldiers in trenches, clutching their guns, waiting to go over the top into battlefields and hell on earth. Harrowing images of the wounded, standing in line, with bandages across their eyes and one hand on the shoulder of the man in front. The maimed leading the blinded.
And you can read the work of the War Poets – words that resonate today as powerfully as any mortar or bullet fired along the Western Front.
But it is too easy to feel a distance between 1914 and today if we rely purely on the words, pictures and statistics to understand the First World War. Now we have lost the last Tommies who fought in the war – Harry Patch died in 2009 – we have lost that personal, physical connection to the Great War.
This publication seeks to re-connect us, by mixing history with travel, exploring both the archives and the world around us today, to see how we can experience the First World War here and now.
We walk the battle sites – around the Somme and Verdun – to understand the human stories that lie behind those chilling statistics.
We stand at the foot of the white memorials that rise high above the baize green cemeteries in northern France and Flanders.
We bow our heads at the graves of the unknown soldiers; two bodies taken symbolically from the battlefields in northern France and buried simultaneously inside Westminster Abbey in London and under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
We visit the fascinating, interactive museums dedicated to the story of the First World War – the Musee de la Grand Guerre in Meaux, the Historial in Perronne and the Imperial War Museum in London.
And we meet the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which does amazing work day after day, year after year, to keep the story of remembrance alive.
This is a book for people who love history and travel. The storyline follows the timeline of the war, from 1914 to 1918, from the first, short-lived battles on the outskirts of Paris to the brutal war of attrition in the trenches. We explore four key themes and regions en route; War in the City, the British HQ along the northern coast, the Somme and Verdun.
We have been honoured to work with a team of real experts to produce this book marking the Centenary of the war – Andrew Murrison MP, the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for First World War Commemorations, writer Thirza Vallois, photographer Mike Sheil and organisations including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Musee de la Grand Guerre and the British Commission for Military History. Their passion, knowledge and archive of original photographs, documents and maps have been invaluable in bringing the history and the legacy of the Great War to life. But most of all, we are proud to have this opportunity to pay our respects to the generation of men who lost their lives in the First World War. We will never forget them.