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.
Atrocious battles were fought across France and Belgium during the First World War. This first total and industrial war brought death and destruction to numberless people from the four corners of the world.
In tribute to their memory, the nations involved built cemeteries and ossuaries for their dead and erected memorials to those whose bodies had not been recovered. These sites of commemoration not only highlight the sacrifice paid by these men but also symbolise the equality of man in the face of death, whatever his ethnic background, religion or country of birth.
The architecture mirrors this facet of common, shared and reconciled history, while the great number of ceremonies and visitors to the area illustrate a desire to unite and remember together. These sites are now places of remembrance and important for learning how to build a better, peaceful future.
World Heritage Status
UNESCO believes that our heritage is the legacy of the past, which we benefit from today and pass on to future generations.
In order for this important heritage to be preserved, a number of international, national and local authorities hope the 139 burial and memorial sites included in the application bid will benefit from international recognition.
-Obtain international recognition for the sites of remembrance that embody one of the most defining episodes of world history
-Pay homage to the fallen of the Somme and the regions along the Western Front, who sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom
-Raise awareness about these areas and the events that took place here
-Protect the often fragile sites of remembrance, which in many cases are public domains or are destined to become so in the future
-Prevent these sacred and symbolic sites from becoming forgotten
The Selected Sites
The 139 candidate sites are located upon the former Western Front, stretching for 750 kilometres through Belgium and France from the North Sea to the Swiss border. An international scientific committee has made the final selection. Each site was chosen because it is unique, authentic, intact and remarkable. It also reflects one or several significant aspects of military funerary architecture.
Of the candidate sites, 11 are located in the Somme:
– Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, including its different memorials and Hunter’s Cemetery
- Australian National Memorial and cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux,
- South African Memorial at Longueval, and Delville Wood Cemetery
- Souvenir Français Chapel of Remembrance at Rancourt-Bouchavesnes and French military cemetery
Why preserve the landscapes and sites of remembrance of the Great War
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 - the theatre of two major battles
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.
In order to raise awareness amongst local inhabitants and the greater public, a bilingual exhibition in French and English will be displayed at various places in the area from mid-October 2017.
The exhibition will present the candidate UNESCO sites of the Somme and will explain why these sites were chosen.
Lend your support
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.