History and war go hand in hand whether we like it or not. There have been many wars that have transformed borders, families and technology over the centuries, and World War One was no exception. During the long four years (1914-1918) that France and her neighboring allies fought Germany, trench, mine and cave warfare were created as a way to not only shelter troops, but also to tunnel under the enemy and destroy them from beneath. There are several prime examples of this type of fighting throughout Europe. We found three while exploring eastern France with kids, which included the Meuse, Reims and Aisne regions.
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WWI Warfare Examples
CAVERNE DU DRAGON (CAVE WARFARE)
The cave of the dragon is completely underground. You are free to explore it on your own at whatever pace works best. A guide can bring the stories to life this complex part of WWI history on the Chemin des Dames. The Caverne du Dragon changed hands between the French and German soldiers several times as each country took shelter or used the cavern as a strategic stronghold during the Battle of Chemins de Dames.
Don’t miss out on the exterior memorial to Senegalese soldiers who fought in the war. France is littered with memorials, but the La Constellation de la Douleur (the Constellation of Pain) by artist Christian Lappoe is by far the most striking, artistic representation I have ever seen.
Where to stay near Caverne du Dragon
- Hotel du Golfe de l’Ailette, 23 Rue de Chemin des Dames – 02860 Chamouille.
- Moulin Bertrard Yurts, 02860 Martigny-Courpierre, France.
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near the Caverne du Dragon now!
LA MAIN DE MASSIGES (TRENCH WARFARE)
Whether you have older children or young ones, parents and children will get something out of a guided visit to Le Main de Massiges. It is free to visit this labyrinth of passageways and dug out living quarters. You will want to book a tour with a personal guide if you want to get a true sense of who was fighting here. A guide can share the personal stories of soldiers who sent letters home but maybe never came back, and the complicated relationship between French and German soldiers fighting in the war. Make sure your guide knows how old your children are and how much time you have. You could spend days talking about the history of this part of France.
Where to stay near La Main de Massiges
- Le Tulipier, Rue Saint Jacques, 51800 Vienne-le-Chateau.
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BUTTE DE VAUQUOIS FRANCE (MINE WARFARE)
The Butte de Vauquois in France is significant for a number of reasons. The biggest being that this is where mine warfare began and the flame thrower was introduced. This once peaceful village was decimated by WWI.
Visitors are free to wander the top of the butte on their own. You will need to schedule a tour to go underground into the mines. I highly recommend you do take a tour. It will hammer home exactly what soldiers experienced and why mine warfare, the act of digging tunnels to place explosives under your enemy, was so important and tragic during this war among nations.
Where to stay near Butte de Vauquois
- Les Jardins du Mess, 22 Quai de la Republique, 55100 Verdun.
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Many thanks to ATOUT France, Air France and the tourism offices of Aisne, Champagne Ardenne, Meuse and Lorraine for hosting my family as we discovered WWI history in France with kids as part of the centennial celebration. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t you will be the first to know.
2 thoughts on “Exploring the Best Examples of WWI Warfare in France with Kids”
I always wanted to go visit the WW1 battlefields in France. I have 2 young children and I am not sure how to handle the subject of the carnage of that particular conflict. I am sure that subject of violence came up during the tour. Any advice on how to handle that topic?
My boys understand violence in an abstract way. I’m very antigun and war, and yet they were making finger pistols before they could walk I feel like. Some say it’s just boy DNA. Who knows. I know girls that do the same. There are definitely ways to talk about WWI without scaring your kids. We talked about a lot of the conflicts happening even today. Sometimes it’s cut and dry “there are bad guys hurting good guys.” Other times it’s more “some people didn’t like what other people were doing so they fought about it.” I think you can visit these sites and talk at an age appropriate level for sure. My four year old (at the time) wasn’t ready for the gore that certainly happened there, and couldn’t even comprehend just how many people died where he stood, while his 7-year-old brother was beginning to understand that guns really can kill people and something really bad had happened in these places. It’s a tricky one, but something you can figure out as you go.