The Notre-Dame de Lorette 14-18 Memorial.

The largest National French Cemetery, the Ring of Remembrance and Lens 14-18

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Notre Dame de Lorette-aurelie_leclercq

The region is not only marked by the mining industry, it was also the site of many battles during WWI. Many sites in the region retrace this sad part of history and pay tribute to soldiers who lost their lives at war.

The most famous cemetery is Notre-Dame de Lorette (the Ablain St.-Nazaire French Military Cemetery). On arrival, visitors are struck by the sheer size of the cemetery, which is the largest military one in Europe. The impressive 62-acre cemetery covered with white crosses was opened in 1925 in memory of the first world war soliders. 45,000 soldiers from different countries are buried here, although only 20,000 were ever identified. The site was chosen because it is where the French army launched an offensive against the German army who were occupying a strategic point overlooking the plains occupied by the allies in May 1915. A massive cemetery was set up near the Notre-Dame de Lorette chapel to bury the dead at the time. Later bodies from over 150 cemeteries in the region were transfered to the site.

A memorial, the Ring of Remembrancewas edified on the Artois hills bearing the names of over 600,000 victims from the North and Pas-de-Calais. The monument was unvielled 11th November 2014 to comemorate first world war’s 100th anniversary. Architect Philippe Prost designed the memorial in the shape of an immense dark grey ring recalling the war on the outside and golden pannels bringing the fallen soldiers’ names back to life on the inside. The 600,000 names from 40 different nationalities including Germans are engraved in alphabetical order as a reminder of the sheer scale of the death toll on the 10 ft high, 1,132 ft round ring.

Further down, the Lens 14-18 War and Peace History Centre was opened in June 2015. Inside the black concrete cubes designed by architect Pierre-Louis Faloci, various documents, objects, over 60 hours of film, 5,000 photos and archives are cleverly displayed retracing the history of WWI. The main events are presented by theme in chronological order. The archive room where the names of the soldiers and their army records are stored recalls the Ring of Remembrance.