The hallowed ground of World War I, then and now


Members of a Royal Garrison Artillery working party carrying duck-boards across the frozen Somme canal in March 1917 and the Somme canal on March 12, 2014. (Photos by Lt. J.W. Brooke/ IWM via Getty Images & Peter Macdiarmid/Getty) (Animated photo illustration by Nick Kirkpatrick/The Washington Post)

Today marks 100 years since the start of World War I. On July 28, 1914, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria the month before, thrusting the world into a war unlike any seen before. It would rage on until November 1918, killing more than 5 million troops and reshaping the world in ways that only sent it hurtling toward the next world war.

Here are some of the places that endured through the war and what they look like now, photographed by Peter Macdiarmid of Getty Images.

Reims Cathedral

Above: April 30, 1917, Reims Cathedral during a bombardment. (UIG via Getty Images)

Underneath: Reims Cathedral on March 11, 2014, in Reims, France. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

The Reims Cathedral in France is more than 800 years old, the site of 25 coronations of kings of France, including Louis VIII in 1223 and Charles VII in 1429, in the company of Joan of Arc. The cathedral was almost destroyed during World War I when German troops tried to reach Paris.

Place de la Concorde

Above: World War I, German airplanes at Place de la Concorde in Paris, wrecked by celebrating crowds on the day of the restoration of Alsace-Lorraine to France. Nov. 18, 1918.

Underneath: Cars are parked near Place de la Concorde on March 12, 2014, in Paris.

In the center of the Place de la Concorde sits the Luxor Obelisk, which dates back 3,300 years. The Luxor Obelisk was once an entrance to the Luxor Temple in Egypt. It was given to Paris by the Viceroy of Egypt in 1829.

Notre-Dame de Brebieres Basilica

Above: (Rue des Archives/PVDE Via Getty Images)

Underneath: Traffic runs from Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebieres on March 13, 2014, in Albert, France. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

“Lourdes of the North,” it was named by the pope in 1899, impressed by the 40,000 gold leaves placed on the sculpture of the Virgin Mary at the top of the basilica. The Star reports that 2,000 shells shattered the building during the war and by January 1915, the statue was left hanging “by her toes.” She came to be called the “leaning virgin.” Superstitious soldiers believed that “when the Virgin falls, the war will end.”

According to The Star, the statue fell in April 1918 and the war ended seven months later. The Notre-Dame de Brebieres Basilica was rebuilt as almost an exact replica, and the statue was back atop the building by 1929.

Trafalgar Square and Scotland Yard

Above: November 1914: In Trafalgar Square, London street urchins dressed as soldiers with paper hats and canes as guns stand at attention watched by a small crowd. Behind them is a notice declaring “The Need for Fighting Men is Urgent.” (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Underneath: Trafalgar Square on March 17, 2014, in London. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Britain declared war on Germany on Aug. 4, 1914. On Aug. 5, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, became secretary of state for war. He is credited with realizing early that the war would last for years, and he built up British forces from 20 to 70 divisions in two years.

Above: A large crowd of men respond to a call by the War Office for married men aged between 36 and 40 to become munition workers. They gathered outside the Inquiry Office at Scotland Yard in London during World War 1. (Photo by Paul Thompson/FPG/Getty Images)

Underneath: A gated barrier runs near Scotland Yard on March 17, 2014, in London. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Trafalgar Square has been the hub of London since its construction in the early 1800s. It celebrates a great British naval victory in the Napoleonic wars, the Battle of Trafalgar, and so is a symbol of British might and resolve.

Les Halles

Above: Les Halles in the Belgium town of Ypres, the site of three major battles during World War I, and almost completely devastated by bombing.   (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Underneath: Cars are parked near Les Halles in the Grote Markt on March 10, 2014, in Ypres, Belgium. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

By 1918, the town hall and the entire town of Ypres was flattened. Some of the biggest battles were fought there, as it was the “linchpin” that kept Germany from advancing to the English Channel.

The Battles of the Marne

Above: German troops sitting on the steps of the Vareddes Town Hall, France, 1914. German soldiers taking a rest during the First Battle of the Marne. (Photo by The Print Collector /Getty Images)

Underneath: A man stands near Vareddes town hall on March 12, 2014, in Vareddes, France. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

The first Battle of the Marne in September 1914 helped bring a halt to the German advance. The second Battle of the Marne, in 1918, ended in a great victory for allied forces, turning the tide of war.

The Battle of the Somme

Above: Soldiers standing outside the ruins of the railway station at Roye, France, during World War I in 1917.  (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

Underneath: Cars are parked at the former railway station on March 12, 2014, in Roye, France. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

The Battle of the Somme in 1916 is considered one of the bloodiest in history, with more than a million dead and injured in fighting over a 30-mile front.

The Battle of Arras

Above: The town hall and the belfry of Arras in ruins, seen from the main square. (Photo by Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Underneath: People walk near Place des Heros on March 14, 2014, in Arras, France. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Eight days before the battle of Arras in 1917, 24,000 British soldiers hid in a labyrinth of medieval quarries converted into an underground hideout under Arras. The Guardian published this report dated April 9-10, 1917:

“The Battle of Arras is the greatest victory we have yet gained in this war, and a staggering blow to the enemy. He has lost already nearly 10,000 prisoners and more than half a hundred guns, and in dead and wounded his losses are great. He is in retreat south of the Vimy Ridge to defensive lines further back, and as he goes our guns are smashing him along the roads. It is a black day for the German armies and for the German women who do not know yet what it means to them.”

 

Module development by Shelly Tan/The Washington Post

Related:

This story has been updated, the Battle of the Somme happened in 1916 not 1918.

Nick Kirkpatrick is a digital photo editor at The Washington Post. Follow him on Instagram or on Twitter.
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