From Gettysburg to the Western Front

by Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mum and I recently attended a special celebration, or should I say an evening of thanks, hosted by Alliance Française and Atout France. And it reminded me of another moving experience I shared with mum.

The First World War changed the course of Australia’s history, when hundreds of thousands of men went to defend the Western Front in France. Sadly many never came back. When mum and I visited this area, whilst on a tour of Normandy for Getaway, she shocked me by bringing out a series of black and white photos of the war torn villages in which we were standing. Her Scottish father, a 17-year-old bomb expert, had taken the photos while fighting with The Black Watch.

We shed tears with the locals, hearing their stories, sharing our images and literally trembling over the hell those men and women experienced. Cut to today; the gratitude is so prevalent, as is the desire to honour and preserve that history so it may never be repeated. What’s truly fascinating is how many of these areas around the world are now major tourist destinations, as people, the world over, make a pilgrimage to honour, to remember and to educate themselves on the horrors of war.

Here are five experiences of visiting these historic sites, which I am sure will move you too.

  • Gettysburg – never have I had a better understanding of the American Civil War than after my afternoon on this sacred battlefield. To stand on the door where Abraham Lincoln delivered one of history’s most memorable (and shortest) addresses. Let’s just say, I’m so glad I went. Explore Gettysburg on a Scenic Tour of the USA Southern states.
  • Vietnam – it’s one thing to read about the Cu Chi tunnels, a labyrinth of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong as hideouts during what’s referred to in Vietnam as ‘The American War’, but to crawl into them and experience how tiny they are is mind boggling. Make sure you read The Quiet American before you go and learn about the battles from the locals perspective. Explore the Cu Chi tunnels with Wendy Wu Tours or World Expeditions.
  • Gallipoli – a pilgrimage for so many Australians, I went during a quiet and chilly time of the year. I’ll never forget the wind, those horrendous ditches and crying over the words of Atatürk, reaching out to the mothers of his enemies… ‘you the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom, and in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have, become our sons as well.’
  • The Western Front, Normandy – the only thing I will add about this well documented, vast and varied location, is that you don’t have to just experience war memorials to appreciate it. I have been here to honour those who fought here, then returned with a friend to honour the gastronomy and textile delights. Memorial sites really can be enjoyed, if that’s the right word, by all ages and all interests.
  • Kanchanaburi, Thailand – dear Lord, I’ve never known a humidity like it, perspiration dripping into my eyes, my light clothing stuck to my back, but how dare I complain. Here I was treated to amazing food, beautiful scenery, the loveliest local service…whilst going to visit what’s known as The Death Railway, in west Thailand, built with untold suffering during WW2. I went here on my first trip to Thailand more than 20 years ago and it gave such a resonance to my many later experiences. To know that a country can today enjoy so much, having earned that freedom in the harshest of ways, ultimately makes you a far more respectful and appreciative traveller.
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