When you arrive at the CWGC memorial at Thiepval, there is a visitor centre you can enter. There is a museum with WWI artefacts, including a full scale replica of a Nieuport 17 ‘Vieux Charles V’ biplane piloted by Georges Guynemer, a famous French flying ace. He was reported as missing in action in 1917, after more than fifty successful combat missions against the Germans.

Replica of the WWI plane flown by Georges Guynemer

There are examples of ordnance including shells and weapons such as a Vickers machine gun. A helmet with the red hand symbol of the 36th Ulster Division can be seen in one of the exhibition cases.

Helmets including one from 36th Ulster Division

The visitor centre, built in 2004, also incorporates the Thiepval Museum. The museum opened in June 2016 to mark the centenary of the 1916 Battle of the Somme. The visitor centre and museum are located a short distance from the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme and the Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery. The idea for a visitor centre museum was first discussed at the annual ceremony of Remembrance on 1st July 1998. Sir Frank Sanderson led a small group in the campaign to build this educational centre. The Anglo-French project was brought to fruition with the help of generous donations to meet the British fundraising target of £660,000.

The visitor centre has been imaginatively constructed at ground level so that it does not impact as an obtrusive building on the local area around the Thiepval Memorial. It welcomes many thousands of visitors to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing each year. At the centre the memorial is put in the context of the battlefield. Display panels in three languages — English, French and German — provide an overview of the course of the Great War from 1914-1918. Display panels focus on the events during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 which occurred at the small village of Thiepval and its surroundings.

Vickers machine gun

In British service, the Vickers gun fired the standard .303 inch cartridges used in the Lee Enfield rifle, which generally had to be hand-loaded into the cloth ammunition belts. There was also a 0.5 in calibre version used as an anti-aircraft weapon and various other calibres produced for foreign buyers. The gun was 3 feet 8 inches (112 cm) long and its cyclic rate of fire was between 450 and 600 rounds per minute. In practice, it was expected that 10,000 rounds would be fired per hour, and that the barrel would be changed every hour—a two-minute job for a trained team.

Vickers machine gun

Three films, each lasting approximately 10 minutes, have been specially compiled covering the subjects of Thiepval, The Battle of the Somme and Memory. The museum provides information, maps, photographs and audivisual experiences to help visitors understand the battles that took place in the Department of the Somme.

WWI shells at Thiepval museum

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