Just returned from another great and varied tour with our very good clients and life-long friends, John Rubin from Manchester and Colin Beattie from Macclesfield. We were based in Englos, near Lille with a shed load of Canadians over for Vimy100
Day 1 after flying in from Manchester, we caught up with the Mons 14-18 visiting old sites like St Symphorien, Casteau and the Grand Place and visiting some new ones too – La Bascule and the Irish Memorial.
Day 2 was a very early start (4.30am) to make our way down to Arras fror the Dawn Commemoration (6.30am) for the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Arras. Very moving ceremony with people from all over the Commonwealth: Canada, NZ, OZ , SA and the UK, together with a very healthy contingent of local townspeople. But it was perishingly cold (3′!)
Then a dash back to Englos for breakfast before travelling off down to Lens for the buses to Vimy100. Quite heightened security checks for obvious reasons!
Great set-up in front of the memorial and we were lucky enough to get seats in front of the big screen. From 3′ in Arras it got up to 25′ by mid-afternoon under a cloudless blue sky. There seemed to be far more Canadians present than actually went “over-the-top” on 9th April 1917! And no mention of the British involvement and no sign of either the Union flag or the UK national anthem, even though PC, PW and PH were in attendance! It was very much this Canadian “Birth of a Nation” stuff, which even modern day Canadian historians dismiss as a myth! Still it was a good afternoon marred at the end of the day by the chaos for the buses to return the massed hoardes to their cars and coaches!
Day 3 we stepped away from WW1 and travelled down to Azincourt and Crecy. The visitor centre in the village of Azincourt is an absolute must for anyone wishing to find out more about this defining battle of England history. And you can still tour around the battlefield itself by car. The observation tower overlooking the Crecy battlefield gives a commanding view of the field, but it is in need of some serious tlc!
Day 4 we were back on the Somme catching up on some old favourites and new ones too! We started at Lochnagar so that I could take my first view of the plaques that were laid last year around the boardwalk on our behalf – one for Pte Peter Kennedy (see our webpage) for the Kennedy family, who fought there with the Tyneside Irish on 1st July 1916, and a personal one, alongside Peter, for me and the Ellis family. My great-uncle Pte Sid Russell was only 19 when he was killed on 9th April 1917 in Macedonia fighting the Bulgarians – and here I was laying a cross beside his name almost 100 years to the day! Very moving for me!
Then off for lunch at Avril’s before making our way to the new museum at Thiepval – well worth the entrance fee! Via Pozieres, Contalmaison , the Bazentin Ridge and Caterpillar Valley and on to Longueval for the SA memorial at Delville Wood. I t was only 3 weeks since I’d been at the Delville Wood Memorial in the centre of Cape Town!
Day 5 after dropping the guys off at Lille I went on alone to Waterloo to see for myself the changes made there for the 200th anniversary. They are impressive indeed and it is now back on the agenda for one of our “catch up on the catch up” tours. Briefly stopped at a set of traffic lights to watch the Paris-Roubaix cycle race hurtle on by, before the flight home from Charleroi.
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