The main fanfare of the recent World War I centenary events might be over, but compelling new war history museums, like the underground city of Naours museum, continue to open across the Somme region.
World War I will forever go down in history as the brutal initiation of a young Australia into the setting of international conflict. Nearly 417,000 Australians enlisted – a staggering number, considering our population was just five million at the time. Of them, 62,000 were killed and a further 156,000 wounded or taken prisoner. Many fought in the Somme.
Today, many of the key northern French battle sites where Australians and others fought and died are now covered in innocent wildflowers beneath benign blue skies. But they remain enduring historic attractions for Australians, who continue to flock year-round to the area’s military graveyards, memorial sites and interactive war history museums.
Windmill of Naours - © Visit Somme
Among these is the recently revamped and expanded Vignacourt 1418 Interpretive Centre . This charming museum was converted from a farmhouse that once belonged to local farmers and amateur photographers, Louis and Antoinette Thuillier, who photographed soldiers throughout the war on silver gelatin print. Their works are rich in storytelling and accompanied by numerous original wartime relics.
Soldier graffiti at the Underground City of Naours - © Anne Boillon
Nearby is the new Underground City of Naours museum (h), which opened in late 2019. The museum features an extensively restored network of 28 underground tunnels and 300 chambers, dug out by the citizens and used alternately by soldiers as a hiding place and convalescent area. Thousands of these soldiers, from France, the UK, Scotland, America and Ireland, scratched their names and short messages into the quarry walls. The museum is set within a 24-acre wooded park offering various activities, including a high-ropes course in the trees.