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The traces of this terrible world-wide crisis are numerous in Belgium and in France. Monuments, cemeteries, museums, preserved battlefields... so much places to see ! (small samples can be found in my pages "places of memory" and "On the ground"). To prepare and accompany your visits, or simply to illustrate your readings, there is a considerable amount of tourist guides. Here is my choice...

Old guides
Modern guides


Old guides

The immediate post-war period saw quantities of people visiting the battlefields. For the ex-combatants, the pilgrimage on the places of their former suffering could take an important part in their delicate psychic convalescence. For certain families, it could rather be a question of seeing with their own eyes the place where a beloved son, father, husband or lover once disappeared, and thus of an essential part of the painful work of mourning. Specialised tourist guides were very quickly published, and are relatively easy find nowadays.

Guide Michelin des Champs de Bataille : Le Chemin des Dames (Ed. 1920)

Today, the Michelin Guides are universally famous. For about one century, generations of tourists used their many editions to prepare and accompany their trips. But do you know that this company also published, during the war and in the immediate the post-war period, guides of the devastated areas, for the pilgrims who wished to visit the places of the fights ?

Many volumes are devoted to portions of the western front (note that the exact titles can sometimes vary with the edition) :

Guide Michelin des Champs de Bataille : Les Batailles de Champagne (Ed. 1921)

  • "L'Yser et la Côte Belge" ("The Yser and the Belgian Coast")
  • "Ypres et les Batailles d'Ypres" ("Ypres and the Ypres Battles")
  • "Lille Avant et Après la Guerre" ("Lille Before and After the War")
  • "Arras et les Batailles de l'Artois" ("Arras and the Artois Battles")
  • "Les Batailles de Picardie" ("The Picardy Battles")
  • "Les Batailles de la Somme" ("The Somme Battles")
  • "La Marne 1914" ("The Marne 1914")
  • "Les Marais de Saint Gond" ("The Marshes of Saint Gond")
  • "La Seconde Bataille de la Marne" ("The Second Battle of the Marne")
  • "La Trouée de Revigny" ("The Revigny Break Through")
  • "La Ligne Hindenburg" ("The Hindenburg Line") - (very rare)
  • "Le Chemin des Dames" ("The Ladies’ Way")
  • "Reims, et les Batailles pour Reims" ("Reims, and the Battles for Reims")
  • "Les Batailles de Champagne" ("The Champagne Battles")
  • "Les Batailles de Verdun" ("The Battles of Verdun")
  • "L'Argonne" ("The Argonne")
  • "Le Saillant de St Mihiel" ("The Saint Mihiel Salient")
  • "Nancy et le Grand Couronné" ("Nancy and The Grand Couronné")
  • "L'Alsace et les Combats des Vosges" ("The Alsace and the Vosges Battles") - (2 volumes)
  • etc...
Illustrated Michelin Guides for the Visit to the Battlefields : Battlefields of The Marne (Ed. 1917)

Many of these works has been translated in english. This is the case for the specimen whose cover is reproduced on the side of this text. Published in 1917 to help the english speaking ones to visit the battlefields of the Marne that were so critical in September 1914, it was to be completely re-examined in 1918, following the second battle of the Marne that bring back the fightings on many of the presented places !

Their reading is really interesting. The edition always include a quick description of the military operations, war time photographs of the described places and - more interesting - of their desolated status at the beginning of the Twenties, and circuit proposals with accompanying notes. It is a disconcerting experiment to follow these routes nowadays, with these old guides in hands...

Circuits des Champs de Bataille de France (Gabriel Hanotaux - Ed. 1920) Foreign Minister of the French government from 1894 to 1898, Gabriel Hanotaux was one of the principal craftsmen of the Franco-Russian alliance. With the end of his political career, he started a second life as an historian and wrote several works on the French history which are now considered as references. This "Circuit des Champs de Bataille de France" ("Circuit of the Battlefields of France"), published in 1920, is part of this ambition. It is thus a rather exhaustive but relatively indigestible guide, intended more for understanding the military operations on the ground than for the comprehension of the experience of the front line. This purpose is met with that work that include, among other qualities, an impressive selection of points of view embracing entire sectors.
Ce qu'il Faut Voir sur les Champs de Bataille et dans les Villes Détruites de Belgique : Tome I - jusqu'à la Chute d'Anvers (Ed. 1920)

The Touring Club of Belgium, Royal Company, published in 1920, under the control of H. Dirkx and J Massart, a guide entitled "Ce qu'il Faut Voir sur les Champs de Bataille et dans les Villes Détruites de Belgique" ("What it Is Necessary to See on the Battlefields and Destroyed Cities of Belgium"). Published in 2 volumes ("Until the Fall of Antwerp "and" the Flanders Front"), this work is distinct from the famous Michelin Guides. A much larger part is devoted to the story of the historical events and a very rich iconography, which almost makes it a History book, with the detriment of the tourist advises.

The counting of the plundering, fires and civil murders during the 1914 invasion is exhaustive and extremely detailed. The fact that this guide covers the near totality of the Belgian territory makes it a remarkable work.

Aux Champs de Gloire - Le Front Belge de l'Yser (Ed. 1921) Small, curious, but very moving work, "Aux Champs de Gloire - Le Front Belge de l'Yser" ("At the Fields of Glory - the Belgian Front of the Yser") is a mini-guide published in 1921 by the Belgian Ministry of the Railways, Posts and Telegraphs. The contrast between the sober and martial texts of the belgian general headquarters and the illustrations of the battlefields 3 years after the end of the fights, artistically drawn with a really romantic and nostalgic pen is striking, and gives to this small book a unique atmosphere. A very good map of the belgian front of Yser, with principal military positions, is included.
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Modern guides

Many touristic guides devoted to this period are published nowadays. Dedicated to the whole of the front or to a very specific area, published in a large amounts or placed at your disposal by the regions authorities or the local tourist offices, all are useful to be sure to fully enjoy our visits on the terrain. A small selection :

Guide Première Guerre Mondiale, des Flandres à l'Alsace (Le Guide Casterman - Ed. 1995)

To my knowledge, the Casterman editions (which were for a long time the home of "Tintin", one of my compatriots!), do not publish any more this excellent work. It is a pity, since among all the modern french guides, this "Guide de la Première Guerre Mondiale, des Flandres à l'Alsace" ("Guide of the First World War, from Flandres to Alsace") (1995) seems to me the most complete, even if it does not mention some of the though very interesting battlefields of 1914 that were Liege, Namur, Mons, Charleroi, Antwerp, the area of Saarbrucken or the Belgian Lorraine, where there are so many things to see. Its approach is clear, the model is very practical and the various sectors of the frontline are explored one by one, with a historical introduction, a very brief description of the places, and a bibliography. It is hopefully rather easy to find it in the secondhand booksellers. Go and find it !

Guide Historia - Les Batailles de Flandre et d'Artois (Y Buffetaut) The Historia Guides dedicated several volumes to the first world war. Written by known historians, these small french guides realise a very good balance between the history of the reported battle with a beautiful iconography, and the the proposal of circuits at the end of the book with quite useful extracts of today roadmaps to help the location. It is however regrettable that the visit comments are often extremely laconic. In the collection, one finds for the period which interests us : "Le Chemin des Dames" ("The Ladies’ Way"), "Les Batailles de la Somme" ("Les Batailles de la Somme"), and "Batailles de Flandre et d'Artois" ("Battles of Flanders and Artois").
Verdun : Guide Historique et Touristique (Y. Buffetaut) Yves Buffetaut, who wrote the Historia Guide devoted to the Battles of Flanders and Artois referred to hereabove, is one of the most prolific current french-speaking historians over the First and the Second War periods. The Historical and Tourist Guide solely entitled "Verdun", that he is publishing in the quite active YSEC editions, uses the same building as the above mentionned Historia guides, but in a much nicer edition. The summary of the battle is limpid and detailed enough for a first approach.
Vimy et Lorette (La Voix du Nord - Ed. 1995) From time to time, the local press makes available commemorative booklets. Some of them are rather well done, and of course generally connected to the current history. For example, this booklet "Vimy - Lorette" published by "La Voix du Nord” (F) using the pen of Catherine Dhérent in 1995, lists in its 31 pages the principal souvenir places attached to these two famous battlefields of Artois. Some of these small booklets are very useful.
Le Champ de Bataille du Linge - Guide du Visiteur Another traditional source of information can be found in certain guides sold to accompany the visitor on a preserved battlefield or a museum. All forms of this kind of guide exist, from very rudimentary (but not less interesting and sizeable) photocopies published by the very active association "Les Amis de Vauquois" (‘The Friends of Vauquois’) to help your guiding through this incredibly gutted hill, until normal books, like this superb "Le Champ de Bataille du Linge - Guide du Visiteur" ("Battlefield of the Linge – Visitor’s Guide"), than you can buy when visiting of this very well preserved site that I recommend to you.
Major & Mrs Holt's  Battlefield Guide to The Somme Toni and Valmai Holt resolutely decided to write guides of the most famous battle fields on which the English troops fought, bound for the very many brittanic tourists who still come nowadays for the pilgrimage. You will find in these "Major & Mrs Holt's Battlefield Guide to The Somme" and "Major & Mrs Holt's Battlefield Guide to The Ypres Salient" the approaching routes from the littoral (including visits of the back of the frontline), descriptions of the memorials, museums, cemeteries, and other remainings of the conflict, and a relation of the heroic individual exploits who’s authors havei been rewarded by the "Victoria Cross", dead or alive ! Those books Include quite a useful map to easily locate all that.
Major & Mrs Holt's Concise Battlefield Guide to Ypres As its name indicates, the "Major & Mrs Holt' S Concise Battlefield Guide to Ypres" is the extremely summarised version of the preceding work. They are edited as well for the battle field of Ypres, and that of the Somme. Sincerely no interest if you have the complete version.
The Somme Then and Now (John Giles) For who wants to walk the ground of the old battlefields of the Great War, the various books of the collection "Then and Now" (which published much more volumes on 40/45) are among the most attractive works. Written by the regretted John Giles (except for the very last volume), "The Somme Then and Now", "The Ypres Salient Then and Now", "The Western Front Then and Now", and "Gallipoli Then and Now" explore these famous portions of the front by proposing us wartime and nowadays photographs of the same places, maps, and the discoveries of the author during his journeys. It's simply regrettable that only the former British front benefited this kind of study...
Before Endeavour Fades The same publisher ("Then and Now") made a smaller book, devoted this time to the whole of the western front, Belgium and France. "Before the Endeavour Comes", by Rose Coombs, is consequently much superficial, but makes it possible to sweep all of the western frontline. The photographs are small, in black and white. We can’t avoid the feeling that each subject could be described by a much more complete coverage, But how many volumes would have been then necessary?...
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