By the time the battle of the Somme ended on Nov. 18, 1916, more than 1 million men were killed or wounded. That’s more than double the casualties suffered in the World War II D-Day invasion and the entire battle of Normandy in June 1944.
There are numerous military cemeteries, many of which contain the graves of soldiers who were never identified, seemingly located around every turn of the road throughout the Somme. Even though the battle was fought more than 100 years ago, the trenches are still visible and some have been paved so that visitors can walk through them.
In no way, though, does a stroll through the trenches dug into grassy fields even remotely convey the ghastly conditions in which the soldiers had to endure.
The area still contains undetonated shells from the war. After a hard rain, it’s not uncommon for locals to spot the remains of soldiers in the mud.
While Allied forces are considered the victors in the battle of the Somme, they gained little territory in the process. But the battle seriously weakened the German army. America entered the war a year later and its fresh troops helped the Allies gain the upper hand, culminating with Germany’s surrender in 1918.
The cruise also included a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach on France’s northern coast. This was the site of the D-Day invasion which turned the tide during World War II and led to Germany’s surrender to the Allies in 1945. The cemetery contains the remains of more than 9,000 Americans.