Touring the Western Front

Shells, trenches and a nappy bag- touring the Western Front with a baby. Samantha travelled with her mother & her 7 month old daughter Josie to Belgium and the UK. While travelling the family visited the historical Western Front. Below is Samantha’s account of their moving day trip.

Last year I travelled to Belgium and the UK for 4 weeks with my Mum. I took my 7 month old daughter with me. We had both good and not so good experiences. I just put her on my back and off we went. Here is my account of one of my personal highlights of the trip.

Nothing makes you appreciate your freedom like a battle ground. Even though the fighting was over, the guns were silent and the peace had been signed almost 90 years before, as I sat in the sun taking in the uneven landscape that had been Hill 60, breastfeeding my 7 month old daughter, I was overwhelmed by a profound gratitude for the way I lived my life.

I don’t know what possessed me to take a baby on a tour of the Western Front. I had studied military history at university and on my first trip to Europe in 2002 BC (Before Children) I had not made the effort to go, and had always regretted it. When my Mum invited me to travel with her and asked me to plan our itinerary, I had no intention of travelling to Europe and missing out again.

I found a tour company, Quasimodo tours, that was prepared to take us on with a baby. I think tour leader Sharon was a little concerned initially, but to her credit she took a chance with us, for which I will always be grateful. I was not keen to hire a car and drive on the other side of the road with jetlag and no idea what I was looking at, so a tour really was the only option for us.

Josie was only 6 weeks old when we booked the trip, but her older brother was almost three and I had travelled within Australia with him since he was four months old. I knew what stage of development she was likely to be at. I also went out on a few ‘practise excursions’ before we left, packing everything I thought I would need for the day into my backpack. During the day I made notes of things I had forgotten or thought would be handy. Of course, the best baby travel aid imaginable was the assistance of an attentive Nona!

The practicalities of the day were similar to how we had approached the entire journey. I had an Ergo baby, so that if Josie wanted to look around I could put her on my back, or strap her to my front to doze. She mostly spent the day on my front, a little confused and out of sorts, tired and in need of a cuddle. She would fall asleep each time we got on the bus, but I could not leave her on the bus at each stop, so I would have to pick her up and wake her. She had four small naps over the course of the day. Our B&B had kindly lent us a child car restraint, which meant I didn’t have to hold her for the entire day. It was only a small thing, but I really think the car seat was the key to making the day a success. Josie got to lie down and sleep, and my arms and back had a break from holding her.

One of the first stops on our tour was Tyne Cot Cemetery. Tyne Cot is the largest British cemetery on the Western Front, and over 8,000 of the 11,000 headstones here pay homage to unknown soldiers. Fighting here was horrific and industrial, a nightmare beyond imagination. Nothing I had read or seen had prepared me for the sheer site of row on row of unknown graves, the sheer expanse of shattered lives. I left Josie with my Mum to wander through the headstones to take the photos I had always wanted to take, the photos I had seen in text books and travel guides.

I turned to walk back up the hill, and saw my Mum playing with her granddaughter, set against the headstones of the fallen and beyond them, the monument to the missing. Instinctively I photographed the scene, and it is my favourite photo from the day.

For me personally, touring the Western front with a small child enriched the experience beyond belief.

Samantha is a keen photographer and co - owner of Beautiful Fairy Memory Albums.

Thanks for sharing Samantha, We look forward to hearing more about your adventures with Josie.