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Albert: A base for exploring the Somme


Posted on March 12 2018

Albert is a great base for exploring the Somme. Thiepval, Pozières, the Lochnagar crater, the Ulster Tower and the Newfoundland Park are all nearby.

This region is the Pays du Coquelicot (Poppy Country) and there are 38 walking tracks and many non-battlefield attractions based around three rivers: the Somme, the Ancre and the Authie.

Visitors can rent a bike, a kayak or a houseboat for the beautiful rivers, canals and ponds, go horse-riding, or take a vintage train ride at Hameau de Froissy.

With its 250 Art Deco houses, Albert is now one of the prettiest towns in the Valley of the Somme but, to British and Australian soldiers, it was the home of the ‘Leaning Virgin’ – a statue of Mary and Baby Jesus on top of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières.

Visible from miles around, the statue was hit by a shell in January 1915. It slumped sideways but did not fall.

The British said whoever knocked the statue down would lose the war; the Germans believed the opposite.

In March 1918, the Germans briefly occupied the town and British artillery targeted the tower to stop it being used for observation.

The Virgin finally fell in April 1918 and was never recovered.

After the war, the Basilica was reconstructed as an exact replica with a new statue recreating the original.

Places to visit

Somme Trench Museum (Musée Somme 1916): Inside a series of 13th century tunnels built to protect the people of Albert from marauding armies, these 250 metres of tunnels are filled with a wealth of artefacts.

Dioramas show the war underground – in bunkers, mines, dugouts and trenches. The gift shop even sells tiny boxes of shrapnel pellets.

The Somme Trench Museum is in rue Anicet Godin in Albert, just beside the Basilica. It is open every day from 23 January to mid-December.

Musée de L’épopée et de l’Industrie ’Aéronautique: Monsieur Betrancourt opens his personal museum of aeronautical and mechanical treasures just once a week on Saturdays, but it is worth the wait.

There is a fascinating collection of intact aeroplanes, vintage trucks, and cars – even a piece of the Red Baron’s Fokker.

L’épopée de ’Industrie et de l’Aéronautique is at 17 rue Industrie, 80300 Albert. It is open only on Saturdays.

Dernancourt: Australian troops were rushed here in March 1918 to stop the German advance towards Amiens.

South Australia adopted Dernancourt after the war and raised money to rebuild the town.

Le Pavilion de Adélaïde is next to the school and, across the main square, there is rue d’Australie.

The Australian Government has contributed to a new walking trail, with signage along the railway embankment to explain the 1918 actions.

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