Pilgrimages and Battlefield tours after the war

At the end of the war, while the armies had not quite left the former front zones, men and women travelled to these battlefields to visit them. Two types of audiences thus rubbed shoulders in these devastated landscapes which lacked the accommodation to receive them. At the time, several organisms were created to enable the families and tourists to organize their visit.

In Great Britain the Saint Barnabas Society was founded in 1919 to allow the bereaved to visit the graves of their loved ones. The society organized group trips, which cost less than an individual trip. As a consequence it also enabled poorer families to travel to the continent. In France, from 1921 onwards, free trips were organized annually for the relatives of deceased soldiers.

Battlefield tourism developed simultaneously. Tours, and tour guides like those of the French company Michelin were created. The Englishman Thomas Cook started organizing trips from 1919 onwards. Other companies were also created and soon this gave rise to tensions between pilgrims and tourists. The tourists had to be continuously reminded that they should show respect for the sites that they were visiting.

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  • Saint Barnabas Pilgrimage, 1924, book, coll. Linge © P&K Linge

    This book narrates the events of one of the pilgrimages organized by the Saint Barnabas Society for the families of British soldiers who died in the First World War.

  • Three Chinese workers and their officer pose with one of the first « battlefield tourists » in front of the ruins of the Van der Mersch house in Ypres, 1919, photo, In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres

    The woman in the photo is one of the first battlefield tourists. She poses with a British officer and Chinese workers. One of their main assignments at the end of the war was to clean up the battlefields and remove the bodies and unexploded ammunition.

  • A group visiting the Aisne, first half of the 20th century, photo, Departmental Archives of the Aisne – mark FRAD002 22 Fi

Saint Barnabas Pilgrimage, 1924, Empire pilgrimage, scottish pilgrimagethree Chinese workers and their officera group visiting the Aisne