Get on road to see battlefield history

Rod Bedford, battlefield guide, at Railway Hollow Cemetery, Sheffield Memorial Park, Serre, France
Rod Bedford, battlefield guide, at Railway Hollow Cemetery, Sheffield Memorial Park, Serre, France
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Towering memorials and hundreds of cemeteries dotted along the Western Front through France and Belgium provide a powerful reminder of the horrors of war.

Staring at thousands of names carved into stone and stretching skywards at monuments such as the one at Thiepval, on the Somme, send a shiver down the spine.

RVS motorhomes vehicle

RVS motorhomes vehicle

There is so much to see around the former World War One battlefields, in most cases, cemeteries and memorials are in isolated, rural areas, so your own transport is a good idea.

For the ultimate flexibility, rather than sticking to a rigid route with hotels, here’s a different idea – a motorhome.

I travelled with Bob Stephenson, who owns Sheffield hire firm RVS Motorhomes, and historian Simon Goodwin, who has been researching World War One.

Our trip across the Channel was with DFDS Seaways, outward from Dover to Calais, and back from Dunkirk.

DFDS Seaways cross Channel ferry

DFDS Seaways cross Channel ferry

The Calais crossing is fairly speedy – around90 minutes – and the ferries are comfortable with spacious lounges, cafes and shops.

For extra comfort, Dover to Dunkirk ferries have first class offering complimentary non-alcoholic drinks and snacks in a quiet lounge with floor to ceiling windows giving splendid views to sea.

Bob has three vehicles available for hire and we were in his ‘swift’ motorhome, which sleeps up to six people and includes toilet, shower and kitchen.

The bedding packs away easily during the day, when berths become seating areas with tables. Space in the vehicles is used innovatively – every area has a function.

The gas hob and oven is capable of cooking a wide array of meals.

There are numerous sockets for plugging in gadgets such as phones, laptop computers or sat navs.

Driving is easier than you would think, just remember width and length of the vehicle compared with a car.

At night, it is best to park at a camp site - plentiful in northern France and Belgium - when you can plug in the motorhome to the mains to avoid draining the batteries and relax outside. Sites are usually just a short walk from town centres.

Albert was quiet but Ypres, by contrast, was lively with a wide range of venues serving delicious but strong local beer. Just don’t have too much if you need to drive off early the next day.

Albert is close to battlefield sites including Serre, where the Sheffield and Barnsley Pals fought in the Battle of the Somme.

Nearby, the Thiepval Memorial contains the names of 70,000 people missing on the Somme and a thought-provoking exhibition.

Up at Ypres, there is the famous Menin Gate – another memorial to thousands of missing men – where an act of remembrance has taken place daily apart from during World War Two.

Members of the city’s fire service play the Last Post and hymns are sung. The spectacle attracts big crowds – turn up early.

A visit to the old Western Front is memorable and moving. We did it in three days but for a more relaxed trip, allow longer.