• Battlefields Trips

    Battlefields Trips

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    Battlefields Trips

    A HISTORY LESSON

    As the centenary of Australia and New Zealand’s involvement in World War One looms, the focus will be on Gallipoli and Anzac Day celebrations. However, there are many other places of pilgrimage worth considering; places that not only offer a deeper understanding of history, but a chance for quiet contemplation and reflection on the cost of war.

    Auschwitz_ShutterstockWARNING TO ALL    
    Auschwitz Birkenau, Poland
    More than 1.1 million people lost their lives in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps between 1942 and January 1945. Visiting the site is humbling and heartbreaking, yet it remains a place many feel compelled to visit; perhaps because it is an important reminder of the danger of evil left unchecked, but also of what must never happen again. Two sites are open to the public; Auschwitz-1, where a number of buildings remain intact, and the largely destroyed, yet incredibly eerie Auschwitz-
     Birkenhau.

    THOSE WHO WILL NEVER FORGET

    Ypres, Belgium
    Every night in the small town of Ypres, volunteers gather at the Menin Gate to play the Last Post, a solemn tribute to the 54,389 soldiers with no marked grave who died here during the Great War. Remarkably, this ritual has taken place every evening since 1927, a record only broken by German occupation during World War Two. Ypres and the surrounding area, Flanders, is central to a number of events taking place between now and 2018 to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Great War.

    THROUGH THE EYES OF THE YOUNG

    Anne Frank House, The Netherlands
    For many young people, Anne Frank remains the eyes through which they first experienced war.
    Hiding in a secret annexe with her family and four others during the German occupation of Holland, the diary Anne kept was published after her death and became a global phenomenon. Today Anne Frank House is Amsterdam’s most visited attraction: people wait in line for hours to walk through the office, and climb up behind the swinging bookcase to see the cramped living quarters where Anne hid, dreaming of life after the war.

    KNOWING MY FATE IS TO BE WITH YOU
    Waterloo, Belgium
    2015 marks the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, where two decades of fighting between
    European powers finally boiled over. The allied armies of Britain, The Netherlands and Prussia came together to fight the French, successfully defeating Napoleon and driving back the French Army at a cost of 50,000 casualities. Today, the Waterloo memorial is reasonably modest: a 40-metre high mound with a lion monument on top marks the spot where the battle raged, and there are two museums on site.

    THE LABOUR OF WAR
    Hellfire Pass, Thailand
    In the tropical heat of the Thai jungle, over 60,000 allied POWs and 270,000 Asian slaves were forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. One of the most treacherous sections was Konyu Cutting, better known as Hellfire Pass. Here, POWs were forced to work 18-hour-days to cut through a 500-metre long section of rock over 25-metres deep, a cruel undertaking that resulted in over 700 deaths. Abandoned and overgrown with jungle, in the 1980s it was cleared and has now become an important pilgrimage spot for Australians, with a memorial museum run by the Australian Government located above the site.

    WAR ON OUR DOORSTEP
    Darwin, Australia
    The bombing of Darwin by Japan in February 1942 shook wartime Australia to its core. Although originally downplayed by government and media, 243 people were killed and the town was heavily damaged during what was to be the first of more than 60 devastating air raids that took place. Today, the war sites are scattered throughout Darwin and include the underground war oil storage bunkers under the city and the military bunker under the East Point Military Museum, both open to the public.

    Gettysburg_Shutterstock

    THE INSPIRATION FOR A NATION
    Gettysburg, United States of America
    Gettysburg is known not only for the decisive Civil War battle that took place in 1863, but also as the place where Abraham Lincoln gave his iconic 272-word address that inspired a nation brought to its knees by civil war.
    Gettysburg National Military Park covers 6,000 acres of preserved battleground and contains over 1,300 monuments, cemeteries and memorials, but is most famous for its Civil War re-enactments, held during the summertime. Book ahead to secure tickets.

    IN HISTORY’S FOOTSTEPS
    Battle of Hastings, United Kingdom
    The Battle of Hastings took place in 1066 but each October, weather permitting, a dedicated hoard of re-enactment enthusiasts come together to recreate the battle between the defending Anglo- Saxon troops of King Harold and the invading Norman-French. Over 400 costumed actors take part in the re-enactment, setting up medieval-style tented camps, riding horses and recreating the epic battle that took place, while visitors can try their hand at blacksmithing, falconry and archery in the adjacent area. At other times, you can still walk the battlefield and visit the nearby Abbey.

    GALLIPOLI 2015
    It will be impossible to miss the centenary of the Gallipoli landings as there will be saturation coverage by all media in the weeks leading up to Anzac Day. But if you have not planned ahead, and think this would be a good year to include it in your travel plans, think again.
    The Australian and NZ governments have run a lottery for the limited spaces available at the Dawn Ceremony at Lone Pine – and demand way exceeded supply.
    Whilst centenaries are important, more than likely planning a visit in subsequent years will be much less crowded and more meaningful. In the interim, read up all about it on the Australian and New Zealand government websites.

    WHERE TO STAY
    Find the nearest Hostelling International hostel near these sites, and others, at hihostels.com

    NEVER AGAIN

    D Day Beaches, Northern France
    I was only a teenager but the memory is as vivid now as it was intense at that time, many years ago. For 180 degrees in front of me, from left to right, was perfect green watered lawn with row upon row of white marble crosses in straight alignment and standing only a metre high. It was a gorgeous summer’s day. We were the only visitors and I stood there looking into the distance. Crosses as far as I could see.
    I was near Colleville-sur-Mere, in Normandy at the US D Day landings cemetery for Omaha Beach.
    Scene of the fiercest fighting on 8 June, 1944 and the days after, the cemetery is both heart-breaking and inspiring. To an impressionable teenage girl, it became etched in memory. The futility. The loss.
    This cemetery was the last stop in a two day trip along the Normandy landing sites – the five beachheads the Allied Forces used to launch the offensive that ultimately ended World War Two in Europe. There is debris and militaria still scattered along the coast, along with memorials and museums. But nothing is more memorable than that cemetery of grief.