Where to Walk in Authentic World War I Trenches in France Today

Authentic trenches preserved from World War IWorld War I was defined by the trenches that stretched 450 miles through Belgium and France, from the North Sea to the German border along the Western Front. It was a zig-zagged maze of mud and disease that, if stretched out straight, would encompass the globe. That’s about 25,000 miles, but that’s not why they called this a world war.

Trenches became a battlefield necessity after the Germans unleashed poisonous gas in the First Battle of Ypres in April 1915. This is the first time a weapon of mass destruction had been used in combat.

Trenches not only gave soldiers time to get their masks on, but also covering after every tree and building had been blasted to bits. You could get much closer to your enemy, but still find protection if you were in a trench.

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Remembering World War I

Where to See Authentic World War I Trenches Today

The St. Mihiel Battlefield in France

100 years after the fighting, huge mounds of barbed wire and other debris still litter the battlefield at St. Mihiel.

The St. Mihiel battleground in northeastern France is one place where the trenches are preserved to teach future generations about this brutal aspect of World War I.

The French and British trenches were made of lumber and sandbags. As a result, those have been restored in the past century.

The Germans, however, they dug their digs to last. Concrete walls fortified by more sandbags kept those soldiers only slightly less miserable than the French and Brits a few hundred yards away. They have lasted pretty well for this past century.

Authentic Trenches from WWI in France

Peep holes in the trenches – just big enough for a rifle and not a lot of room to take aim.

The trenches are just wide enough for two people to stand abreast of each other. They are, however, wide enough for two men carrying a stretcher loaded with another soldier to pass behind those standing with rifles in their hands, shooting through small “peep” holes, for lack of a better word.

About six feet deep, many soldiers had to stand on a small platform to see the outside world. Our grandpa was 6’1″ before he put on Army boots and a helmet.

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Trench Warfare in the Battle of St. Mihiel

St. Mihiel is remembered by military historians as the first use of tanks on a battlefield. Tanks were just one of many inventions from the Great War that helped us kill others a little more efficiently. General Pershing put a young colonel named George Patton in charge and the Allies had the Germans on the run before they knew what was happening.

The St. Mihiel Battle Memorial in FranceAfter you explore the St. Mihiel battlefield and climb down in those authentic trenches, take time to climb the steps to the memorial commissioned by General Pershing following the war. There you’ll find a map that demonstrates how the battle unfolded.

Our grandfather did not fight in the Battle of St. Mihiel during those bloody three days in September 1918, but he was on his way, crossing the English Channel on a steamer, according to the diary he kept. Sgt. Wilbert Eastman would find himself in trenches a few miles away in the Argonne Forest in another week or so.

From the top of the St. Mihiel Memorial on a beautiful spring day in France, my sister and I looked around at the beautiful countryside, recognizing that when our grandfather was here, it was treeless and barren, covered in barbed wire and laced in these trenches. Once again, we gave thanks that Grandpa kept his head down and came home.

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