VISIT: Lichfield Crater Cemetery
This post summarises my visits to the Lichfield Crater Cemetery and is part of a series on the Great War.
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Lichfield Crater Cemetery is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery. As such, even though it is small, the site is beautifully tended with a pristine lawn. It was an ad hoc burial site during the war, with the number of burials sufficient to ensure that they were left in situ and the crater became an official burial ground.
The crater was formed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, during the busiest period of undermining, Miners undertook the dangerous and challenging task of breaching the enemy lines from underneath, without detection or being blown up. Countermining was a constant danger and many lives were lost in underground skirmishes at close quarters. The work was undertaken in suffocating confinement using volatile explosives. Even so, experts think that there are tons of unexploded mines remaining across the Western Front.
The cemetery is accessible along a grass path from a country road. There is no dedicated parking but the road is quiet and rural so there is space to pull off. This may require some juggling if you need side access for ramps, however.
Access to the site is along a level path, approximately 75 metres from the main road. It is smooth but grassy – closely mown. There is no seating along the way, and no benches at the cemetery although there are walls for emergency perching.
The cemetery is smooth and level so is mostly accessible around the edge, though the surface is grassy.
As it is a crater, there is a considerable depression in the middle and the slope down into the middle is steep but short. The crater was once considerably deeper but was partly filled in. This happened a lot on the Western Front, often as farmers tried to restore their land to a usable state but also – as in Lichfield – because they were used as mass burial pits for the unidentifiable thousands.
A few stone steps lead up to the memorial cross on a platform. These are smooth and level shallow steps.
Set within farmland, it is a peaceful place. It is hard to imagine now the transformation over just a few months from pastoral fields to a mud-bound nightmare. Equally, while the farms have reclaimed their function, craters like Lichfield serve as reminders that the war was harsh enough to leave permanent scars on the flatlands of the Somme.
The best single volume overview in my opinion – clear, lively, with helpful maps and a mix of overview and firsthand accounts – is The Great War Explained by Philip Stevens.
Respected historian Ian Kershaw’s To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 covers the period from the outbreak of the first war to the recovery from the second.
if you are seeking a specific grave or want to make sure you haven’t missed anything, I recommend checking out the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and other sites.
There are very respectable overviews in both The Rough Guide to France (Rough Guides) and Lonely Planet France (Travel Guide). The Bradt Guide World War I Battlefields: A Travel Guide to the Western Front: Sites, Museums, Memorials (Bradt Travel Guides) is a great compromise between those and the intense detail of specialist battlefield guides – and the price has come down since I first encountered it!
If you are looking for comprehensive coverage, you can’t do better than Major & Mrs Holt’s Definitive Battlefield Guide Somme: 100th Anniversary (Major and Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guides).
Transport to France
You can find some great deals on flights, hotels and packages with ebookers,
For those coming from the southern parts of the UK, it’s easy (and often cheaper) to take the ferry to Northern France. Of course, if you have an adapted car it also makes the whole trip easier. I love travelling with DFDS and have gone to Scandanavia and Amsterdam with them several times. Click here to visit their site. For other routes and operators, go to AFerry (click here) to search all the options.
If you are bringing your car, make sure your insurance is good. RAC has excellent Europe-wide roadside assistance (click here).
Car travel is the best way to get around the Somme battlefield. If you are hiring locally, you can do what we did and rent a car directly from Europcar (click here), who has a handy base at the train station in Lille as well as several around the region. Alternatively, the two companies I use regularly are Argus Car Hire (click here) and HolidayAutos (click here), both of which offer a range of providers and great value damage refund insurance at competitive prices.
If independent car travel isn’t an option for you, there are many touring options around the Somme battlefield – the leader amongst them being Shearings Holidays (click here). What you lose in independence you gain in knowledgeable and experienced guides. Often the tours are timed to coincide with particular commemorations. Alfa Tours (click here) also runs occasional tours to the Somme and Flanders.
Hotels and Attractions
My number one recommendation is to use TripAdvisor. It can also be hard to get good information on accessibility, so turning to crowdsourcing can be the most useful option, especially when considering hotels.
Find a great range of hotels and get free nights with Hotels.com or book a package deal with Let’s Go 2.
I get my travel money from the Post Office. Their rates are competitive and I love their buy-back policies.
If you’re a planner, you can get tickets online to lock in your must-dos. You can book attraction tickets and packages via www.tours4fun.com, from open-top bus tours to day trips. Tiqets has pretty much everything you could possibly want for many destinations!
Always make sure you have appropriate travel insurance – and insurance that covers any specific medical conditions. Travel Insurance 4 Medical treats medical conditions as a normal part of life and are worth checking out. Alpha Travel Insurance is also great for flexible needs.