Museé Somme 1916 – a Sunday afternoon in Albert

Sunday started out looking pretty gray and dreary and not the kind of day you want to spend hours just sitting inside staring at four walls.  So on the spur of the moment I decided to go to the nearby town of Albert to visit this museum.  Since Armistice Day is next week, this is an especially interesting time to visit a museum of WWI history.031

Albert is a village about 20 minutes by train from Amiens.

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The town was hard hit during the Battle of the Somme which was not only one of the worst battles in history but also has the dubious distinction of including the worst DAY in the history of the British Army, with 60,000 British casualties on July 1, 1916,

The basilica with a famous statue of The Golden Virgin was destroyed during the war and later rebuilt.

027The museum is housed in a network of tunnels that were part a crypt running under the basilica dating back to the 13th century.   Now visitors enter the dank, eerie tunnels to see a museum depicting trench life for the soldiers of the First World War.  (During  WWII, these same tunnels were used as air raid shelters.)

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This museum graphically illustrates the soldiers’ experiences in this battle that took place in the area 100 years ago.  There are exhibits of items excavated from the area and presented just as they might have looked when they were found.  There is everything you can imagine that accompanied soldiers into battle including personal items, helmets, weapons, tools and even a bugle.

008The most interesting exhibits were the many vignettes showing the experience of  trench warfare from both sides of the conflict020 013 023These were exceptionally well detailed vignettes, comprised of orginal uniforms, weapons, and other accessories.  They even included vermin (such as rodents and flies) among the settings to make it as realistic as possible.

The last section of the tunnel was designed to give a complete sensory experience.  You walk into a darkened section of the tunnel with its dank, chilly air and the sounds of airplanes and explosions punctutated with bursts of flashing lights, and you can imagine either being a soldier dug into the trenches of the battlefield or a civilian taking cover during an air raid.  Either way it is a very dramatic and effective.

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After my visit I had some time to pass until the train back to Amiens.  Most of this little town was closed on Sunday, but one of the British visitors at the museum mentioned that a little pub nearby was open and I had a pleasant lunch at a reasonable price (for a change).   Le Corner Pub was kind of a cross between an English pub and a brasserie.  This was called poisson frit, the French version of fish & chips.  I had to smile when I saw it because it was so “dainty” compared to the traditional English dish.

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But it was pretty good for simple pub fare.  This main dish plus a bottle of Perrier, a double café, and a nice dessert –  pain perdu au caramel – came to 17,90€ which is reasonable considering that it is service compris (tip included.)   It was even served with a smile by the friendly (!) proprietor.

It was just a short walk back to the gare and I still had a few minutes to duck into the Basilica before catching my train.

030And then on back to Amiens.  The dull, gray Sunday afternoon turned out to be pretty interesting after all.  Just hop on a train, go to the next little town, and see what’s there…

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