Paysage de la Grande Guerre - Mémorial de Beaumont-Hamel. Crédit : Thibault Dhermy
The UNESCO Project: The preservation of the sites of remembrance
The UNESCO Departmental Committee met for the sixth time on 7th November 2016 at the Somme Departmental headquarters in Amiens. Composed of locally elected officials, representatives of various sites of remembrance and professionals of the tourism sector, this committee is working on an application to list the cemeteries and memorials of the Western Front as UNESCO World Heritage.
The UNESCO Project: landscapes and sites of remembrance of the great War
The Department of the Somme, actively engaged since 2011 alongside Belgium and 13 other French departments of the old front line with the Paysages et Sites de Mémoire de la Grande Guerre association (Landscapes and Sites of Remembrance of the Great War), is working to have these areas listed as UNESCO World Heritage. The board is co-chaired by Laurent Somon, president of the Somme Departmental Council and Claude Léonard, president of the Meuse Departmental Council.
Why should these areas be listed?
The project has several objectives:
- To obtain international recognition for the sites of remembrance that embody one of the most defining episodes of world history
- To pay homage to the fallen of the Somme and the regions along the Western Front, who sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom.
- To raise awareness about these areas and the events that took place here.
- To protect the often fragile sites of remembrance, which in many cases are public domains or are destined to become so in the future.
- To prevent these sacred and symbolic sites from becoming forgotten.
T he different nations that took part in the Battle of the Somme are numerous. At least 25 nations, notably from the Commonwealth, fought here and today a strong duty of remembrance is felt in these countries, passed on from generation to generation. This remembrance is shown through the commemorations that are held each year and through the information provided in the museums and interpretation centres. Today the inhabitants are veritable guardians of the memory of the men who are buried and commemorated here.
Landscapes of a variable nature
The listing covers a broad spectrum of landscapes:
- Battle-scarred grounds, which still carry the traces of fighting and, today, help the battles and military operations that took place upon them be interpreted
- Symbolic sites
Only a selection of sites chosen by the committee are included in the list. The candidate sites are justified by their uniqueness, their exceptional nature and authenticity.
Of the candidate sites, 11 are located in the Somme. These include national memorials such as the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont-Hamel, the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, the South African Memorial at Longueval, the Pozières British Cemetery and Memorial and the Noyelles-sur-Mer Chinese Cemetery, and other less well known sites, included for their international symbolism. These include Rancourt-Bouchavesnes and the French military cemetery, the chapel of Remembrance, the British Cemetery and the German cemetery and chapel. Mill Road Cemetery next to the Ulster Tower is also a candidate for its unique feature of having headstones laid flat. The final candidate is Louvencourt Military Cemetery, one of the first Commonwealth military cemeteries to have been established after the war.
Why should these landscapes and sites of remembrance of the Great War be preserved?
The First World War was one of the most important chapters of our history; it changed the face of the world.
Little compares to it, witness the number of men and women who were killed or wounded serving their country, or the number of non-combatants who were directly involved in the war; the commitment of whole nations – whole populations - that were caught up in the conflict and stood in support of their armies for such a long period of time.
The Great War is also synonymous with:
- The complete devastation of many regions, towns and villages razed to the ground, as in the suburbs of Peronne, where only one single church was left unscathed. And the new lease of life with the reconstruction of new, modernised houses, complete with running water and reflecting a new architecture
- A period of mourning, which saw a whole generation sacrificed, leaving behind millions of orphans, widows and grieving families
- The need to pay homage to these men and women with numerous national, regimental, individual or village memorials, the burial of millions of dead soldiers, and pilgrimages to the graves of loved ones.
Now that the last veterans have departed, the landscapes and memorial sites of the Great War are the last living witnesses to this era and we have a duty to preserve them. What were once war torn sites are now areas of peace and reconciliation; emblematic of former enemy nations who are now united in peace, remembrance and history.
The Somme was the theatre of two major battles during the Great War
The most famous is the Somme Campaign of 1916, one of the most deadly battles of the Great War with over one million losses (KIA, wounded, prisoners and missing) in just four and a half months. This number averages to 7,500 losses per day. The joint Franco-British Battle of the Somme, an industrial battle, marked by heavy casualties and suffering, marked a turning point in the war.
In 1918, the Somme was also the theatre of the Kaiser's Battle, a German spring offensive, brought to a halt before it reached Amiens. It also represents the first victory of the American Army at Cantigny, the birth of modern war tactics at Le Hamel and the great Allied counter offensive, which was launched on 8th November. These two battles in 1916 and 1918 caused great damage to the department of the Somme, which had to be completely rebuilt on the east.
To offer your support to the project
The request to list the landscapes and sites of remembrance as a UNESCO World Heritage Site concerns each and every person who would like to see the history of the First World War preserved and remembered for perpetuity.
You too can help. Whether you are an individual, association or local authority, you can also offer your support by:
- Visiting the ‘Paysages et sites de Mémoire de la Grande Guerre’ association’s website and filling out the form ‘Je soutiens l’inscription’ or by writing a letter of support
- Becoming a member of the association (€15 for individuals and associations, €15 to €250 for municipalities, depending on the number of inhabitants)
- If you are a local authority or a parliamentary member: following the Scottish National Parliament’s example and voting a motion of support for the project.