Saturday 1st April
From Richebourg we took a gentle drive towards Arras, but along the way stopped at a few places recommended by the Vicarious Books “Road Trip Europe – The Great War and More” which we will be dipping into every so often.
The first stop was the French cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette. The crosses you see here are a quarter of those here, 40,000 men are laid to rest here, 22,000 are unknown.
It took the French a year to regain this high point after the initial invasion by the Germans who still controlled the coal mines and factories in the valley below. From here the Canadians advanced to Vimy Ridge in April 1917
Adjacent to the cemetery is this memorial, a huge circle with the names of 580,000 men of all nations inscribed on brass plaques. Note that these are just the men killed in North France and the Pas de Calais.
Seeing the names close up really does bring home to you the shocking scale of the First World War.
We found the only known “Walland” to perish in the great war.
Each spot on the map is a cemetery. As you can see, there are hundreds but this is just a short stretch, 20 mile length of the front. Lens is in the middle with Arras at the bottom. The front actually covered a distance of 500 miles!!
The second stop was at Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery holding 7,600 graves from all Commonwealth nations.
As previously mentioned, this is just one of hundreds of cemeteries but it was immaculate. The grass was cut in lines, there wasn’t a weed to be seen.
Contrast that with the German cemetery at Neuville St Vaast. Crosses were laid out almost as far as the eye could see, each marker signifying 4 fallen men.
I was suprised to find Jewish graves amongst the crosses until realising that things were rather different in 1914-1918.
We moved on to Arras and to my relief there were plenty of spaces. It is not a large aire here and very popular but arriving at lunchtime is the thing to do, the French tend to arrive much later.
Since it was lunchtime I offered to take Lucy for a walk around the shops knowing that they would all be closed and I could save a bit of money. Call it karma, she has got her own back by finding me a closed beer shop with 600 beers.
She must have seen my sad face and quickly took me into a bar for a quick drink. Here we have beer of today (possibly beer of the week after we got the bill), I have a lovely wheat beer and Lucy has some dodgy cherry, fruity stuff.
Another reason for the beer was that the Tourist Office was closed for lunch and we wanted to investigate the tunnels underneath and then climb the bell tower.
Somehow I managed not to take any photos in the tunnels, I was too busy trying to avoid low tunnels and keep up and not get lost. Under the town hall is a large network of underground stone quarries. Originally used for extracting the stone, in medieval times they were used for storing provisions and market stall holders wares to save them transporting everything back and forwards for the three markets a week.
During World War Two, the British realised their strategic importance, the Germans were bombing Arras from Vimy Ridge and the tunnels made a very safe area for housing troops, a hospital and munitions storage.
After the very interesting tunnels we climbed to the top of the bell tower (the last 34 steps anyway, the rest of it was by lift) for a bird’s eye view.
All of the buildings surrounding the two main squares show an obvious Dutch building style. Nearly totally obliterated they have been faithfully reconstructed.
We had bought a multi ticket in the Tourist Office and the third part of our experience was a visit to the Wellington Quarry but we had to wait until 11.30am on Saturday.
First thing Saturday, we visited the Vauban Citadelle, a Unesco World Heritage site, built into a star shape. We’ve managed to find a few Vauban forts so far but this has to be the largest of them all – the scale is so immense the photos really don’t do justice. Above is part of the main entrance showing just how thick the walls are.
Part of the walls which are placed so that each wall can defend others.
Don’t tell them your name Pike. Onto the Wellington Quarry, named by the New Zealand troops, not after a Duke. Originally another stone quarry, this was greatly extended and housed thousands of men.
The tour starts with a descent in a lift and then takes 50 minutes to complete. We only saw a fraction of the tunnels here but it was clear that it was very well organised with water, toilet and electrical systems planned.
This part of the tunnel extends for over 200 metres right up to the front line. The troops were able to dig about 80m per day using hand tools so as not to make too much noise and alert the Germans.
On the 9th of April 1917, 24,000 troops started amassing here right under the German noses. Eight days later the Battle of Arras started with the troops climbing stairs like this to bring them right in front of the German lines. The Commonwealth troops were able to push the Germans back 12km by which time lines of communication were starting to get a bit strained. Allenby, in charge of this area allowed the advance to recoup for a day in which time the Germans were able to bring in 8 reserve battalions and prevent any further movement.
Next stop Amiens which meant a drive though a number of different fronts. It was very sobering to see so many cemeteries by the side of the road. Each one was in sight of the next and here we are entering into the Somme.
The view from Frankies door from our aire. We are in a mixed car park, set amongst the trees, just four of us here (one looks like it is in storage) and between us and Amiens Cathedral is a park, boating lake, tennis courts and the River Somme. he sky looks a bit dodgy but it was getting warm. At one point we were walking in the shade to keep out of the heat.
Our guide books tells us that Amiens Cathedral is one of the most awe inspiring cathedrals in France.
Cafes line the edge of the Somme…
… and opposite are some very old looking buildings.
The detail in the stonework to the front of the cathedral is very impressive but inside it was all a bit boring. The ceilings are very high but there was little decoration, i think Italy spoilt us on the church front.
Penitents are required to crawl on their hands and knees along the black line of the labyrinth, located in the centre of the cathedral.
Back at Frankie and a short, sharp shower cleared the hundreds of park visitors leaving the car park empty and quiet, the sun has just popped its head out and bearing in mind we are pretty much in the middle of a city, all we can hear is birdsong. C’est la vie.