Here, we look at some top historical sites and commemorative museums from the "War to End All Wars".
Standing on the hilly crest overlooking Passchendaele, the silence is deafening, yet this serene pocket of Belgium – a bucolic tapestry of emerald farms dotted with white puffs of sheep – echoes the thundering carnage of the First World War.
In the drizzly rain outside Tyne Cot Cemetery, it seems right to feel chill-drenched to the bone, my heart reeling with empathy for the patriotic men and boys whose high spirits for fighting "the war to end all wars" fell as swollen corpses mired in seas of mud under clouds of chemical gas in the place that has come to define the epic sacrifice of the great war.
Wrenching as it is to envision soldiers succumbing to brutal trench warfare for a hard-won peace, my emotions grow grim in the Tyne Cot burial grounds, where drizzle bounces off 12,000 white marble headstones, and splashes against marble walls engraved with names of 35,000 Allied soldiers, their remains unknown.
Tyne Cot – the Commonwealth Nations' largest WWI cemetery – and its adjacent museum is among the poignant sites attracting visitors to battlefronts that erupted between 1914 and 1918 across Europe and in various ports of North Africa and the Mediterranean coast. In every location, tales of triumph or despair may blur together with captions of local history, but they inevitably end with the lives of soldiers whose courageous mettle became the lowest common denominators of battle.
As the war played out on widespread fronts, trying to visit numerous, historic First World War sites requires costly, ambitious travels. Yet, over decades of cruising with my husband – a scholarly history buff – I've learned that wartime history resonates on most itineraries, and you can glean a true sense and scope of wartime events by day ventures from certain ports, whether by a cruise line's guided excursions or independent jaunts which may involve a quick train ride.
It's worth enhancing your experience with advance research. In Ottawa, the Canadian War Museum is an excellent source of details and map guides. In London, England – where one of the world's most spectacular cruise experiences is sailing under the Tower Bridge on Silversea's small vessel as the band plays "Hail Britannia, Britannia Rules the Waves" – it's advantageous to visit the Imperial War Museum which reopened in July 2014 after major redevelopments that feature new First World War Galleries and exhibits of British First World War art.
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