A Canadian soldier, left, lights a German prisoners cigarette at Passchendale in November 1917.

Johannesburg - Next year, the world will start gearing up for the centenary of the start of World War I. Also known as the Great War and the War to End All Wars, it raged from 1914 to 1918. It was the first time war had been waged on such a scale, involving many nations across the world, including South Africa.

A total of 149 000 South African troops fought in World War I and more than 7 000 were killed. The battles of Passchendaele, the Somme, Ypres and Verdun are legendary.

But it is the Battle of Delville Wood that is of particular importance to South Africa. It was the first major fight involving the 1st Infantry Brigade on the Western Front. The casualties were catastrophic, as much as 80 percent, but South African soldiers held the wood in what was described as one of the “bloodiest battles of the hell of 1916”.

The battles were mostly fought in western Europe in muddy trenches and the World War I saw the introduction of tanks, aerial dogfights, the machinegun and poison gas into battle. The trench network stretched nearly 40 000km from the English Channel to Switzerland and presented incredible challenges for the soldiers on the front line.

An inspired holiday is the new 12-day Trafalgar World War I and World War II Battlefields, which takes travellers to the wars’ most significant monuments, memorials and museums through England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Starting in London and ending in Amsterdam, the trip stops in Caen, Amiens, Paris and Lilles, and includes daytrips to Somme, Ypres and Portsmouth.

Trafalgar’s South African guests will get the opportunity to pay their respects to their countrymen when visiting Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, Belgium, where The Last Post is sounded every evening at 6pm to honour the war dead.

On an excursion to Ypres, guests will stop in Passchendaele to visit the museum and see a replica trench. Other highlights of the trip include a visit to the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy, a wine tasting at a Champagne house in Lille, a dinner of Dutch cuisine with a local family just outside Amsterdam and tours of Paris and London with local guides.

Priced from R23 650 per person sharing, this 12-day lively-paced guided holiday includes first-class accommodation with breakfast daily, five dinners including the Trafalgar exclusive Be My Guest dinner in Amsterdam, overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen and lots of sightseeing. Visit London, Portsmouth, Normandy, Bayeux, Amiens, Caen, the Somme battlefields, Paris, Reims, the Ypres Salient, Groesbeek, Arnhem and Amsterdam.

Save up to R5 200 per couple with Trafalgar’s early payment discount on easy terms. Offer ends December 27 and is valid on selected departure dates between April and August next year. - Saturday Star