In the trenches at Vimy Ridge: How to take a virtual tour

Want to get a closer look at First World War memorials overseas, but don’t have the resources for a trip? Google Maps has you covered.

Through Google Streetview, Canadians can walk in the shoes of soldiers who fought in the First World War, through trenches, tunnels and right up the steps of the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France.

So how does it work?

Google Streetview is a function of Google Maps that allows a user to virtually drag and drop themselves right into the streets -- or, in this case, trenches. Once in Streetview, a user is fully immersed in a 360 degree image of the area. They can look around by clicking and dragging at the edges of the screen, and click on arrows that appear onscreen in order to walk, virtually, to a new vantage point.

As part of the memorial at Vimy, reconstructed trenches snake around the grounds where they would have stood over 100 years ago. Through Streetview, these can be explored digitally.

According to a press release from Google Canada, the first-person perspective walkthrough of the trenches at Vimy was made over the course of two trips in 2016 and 2017, on foot using a backpack “trekker,” that features 15 cameras to create the immersive 360-degree perspective.

The memorial, located in northern France, receives around 800,000 visitors each year, according to Veterans Canada.

Vimy Ridge is where the most significant battle for Canadian Forces took place in the First World War. The massive battle that began on April 9, 1917 was ultimately a triumph for Canadians and for Allied Forces, but more than 3,000 soldiers died in the attack.

The towering white memorial at Vimy took eleven years to build, and the base is engraved with the names of 11,285 Canadians who died in France and have no recorded resting place. Through Streetview, one can walk up the steps of the memorial and all around the base.

The Streetview path also winds through preserved tunnels at the national memorial site, showing the claustrophobic circumstances that plans for the historic battle would’ve been drawn up in.

Vimy Ridge is not the only Canadian memorial overseas that can be explored in Google Maps. Several key locations related to the Battle of the Somme, one of the most brutal battles for Canadian soldiers during the war, are on Google Streetview.

One is the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, which honours the Newfoundland regiment that was almost entirely wiped out on the very first day of the 1916 battle.

Another is the Lochnagar Crater, which is a huge hole in the earth that was created by the detonation of a mine under the German Front Lines at the Somme.

In satellite view on Google, one can still see the way that these landscapes were shaped by war, with both battle sites still pockmarked from shells, trench lines zig-zagging through the green.

A full list of the virtual tours available through Google Streetview is on the Veterans Canada website.

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