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Latest update : 2014-08-08

WWI: The Somme, Land of Remembrance

© France 24

Every year in France, more than 200,000 visitors walk across the battlefields of the Somme. They come from Great Britain, Canada or even from Australia and New Zealand with one goal: to lay flowers on the graves of hundreds of thousands of soldiers of the British Empire who fell here during World War One.

The Battle of the Somme is considered to be the bloodiest in the military history of the Commonwealth. For young states like Australia and New Zealand, it was their baptism of fire. In these countries, the Somme is part of their national identity.

All the countries that made up the British Empire in the 20th century have kept the date of July 1st, 1916 engraved in their collective memory. That day, the French and the British launched an offensive assault of unprecedented proportions on the German positions between Bapaume and Péronne. But from day one, their momentum broke under fire from enemy machine guns. 60,000 Commonwealth soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The massacre would continue until November 1916.

Nearly one hundred years later, France 24 headed to the memorials of the Somme, north of Paris. Every year, the commemorations of ANZAC Day and July 1st gather thousands of participants from around the world, mainly from Commonwealth countries.

Our reporters met the descendants of soldiers and other visitors gathered to honour the memory of the fallen.

By Florence GAILLARD

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