War history: Arras - the sad city that Suffolk took to its heart and is now Ipswich’s twin town

The ruinsl of Arras, familiar to the men of the Suffolk Regiment during the war. The people of Suffo

The ruinsl of Arras, familiar to the men of the Suffolk Regiment during the war. The people of Suffolk would help rebuild the city after the war. - Credit: Archant

Mike Peters, Galloway’s resident military historian and chairman of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides, recommends a day or two away from the bustle of modern life, experiencing the atmosphere of the Somme battlefields

Arras today.

Arras today. - Credit: Archant

There is no doubt that recent intense media coverage has raised public awareness of the First World War centenary, and there has been a corresponding rise in the number of people deciding to visit the Western Front for the first time.

Most Galloway battlefield tourists visit because of a family link, or perhaps as part of a community-related project, researching the names of the men on their village war memorial, or even following a local regiment. All of this in spite of the fact that the events of what was once referred to as the Great War have passed beyond living memory.

Although it sounds like an obvious consideration, many people fail to understand the scale of the Western Front and the distances involved.

My first piece of advice is to be realistic in your planning. Perhaps one of our Day Excursions is the best starting point for you.

This year we are running a series of one-day tours to both Ypres and the Somme. This is a good way of gauging what is out there and what may interest you the most.

I have already talked in previous weeks about visiting Ypres, so this week thought I would highlight the Somme. Battlefield touring is experiential, and there are few places better for gaining a feel for history than the Somme.

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The battlefields of the region are among the best places in the world to really get away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist trail and get to grips with understanding the British soldier’s experience of war.

Battles are about ground, and the infamous killing fields of the Somme in 1916 remain largely unchanged today. You will be able to walk the ground and view the area just as the men of 1916 did.

The terrain is mainly rural. When you need to, it is not too difficult to find yourself a private corner of a foreign field that you can call your own, and there reflect on what our expert guides have told you.

If you elect to visit the Somme on a longer tour, we will complement the experience by taking you somewhere you can unwind after a busy day outdoors.

Look no further than the French city of Arras. Twinned with Ipswich, this busy provincial capital is an ideal urban centre for anybody who needs to recuperate after a day roaming the battlefields.

In 1917, Arras was at the centre of one of the most hard-fought campaigns of the war. The town gave its name to a series of battles fought between April 9 and May 16, 1917; the final cost to the British and Commonwealth armies was more than 158,000 casualties.

There is a lot to see here, not least the Place Ipswich close to the town centre. We often visit the Wellington Quarry, a subterranean museum complex that commemorates the tunnellers and miners of the First World War – men who fought a deadly underground battle beneath the city.

Graffiti remains on the walls from 1917, including some from the Suffolk Regiment.

The Suffolks left more than just graffiti behind them; the Western Front is strewn with tangible links to Suffolk and other parts of East Anglia.

There are other reasons for the strong affiliation between Arras and Ipswich. In the immediate aftermath of the war; Arras and its agricultural infrastructure were devastated. The people of Ipswich and the rest of Suffolk were at the heart of British efforts to revive farming in the area. Farm machinery, seed for new crops and advice were all freely given to the people of the battered French town.

So, the next time you drive into Ipswich and see the partnership signs for Arras, think back 100 years or so to the men of Suffolk and their time on the Somme. Or, you could just come and see for yourself…

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