‘arassed, Arras and Amiens


Friday 10 May 2019

I’d planned to buy 3€ worth of electricity (to recharge my bike) and water from the vending point on site. As I went to drive to it the engine only just managed to start. The battery had barely any charge, which was strange. No reason for it. Never mind, hooking up to power would sort it. I parked by the power/water point, connected the hose and cable and tried to pay by card – the only option – but the terminal wasn’t working. I couldn’t get power but the water was working so I filled up for free. I expected the van to start, as it had done before, but it was deader than a dead thing.

To cut to the chase, I bought some expensive jump leads from a nearby store and managed to jump start it off the leisure batteries! Good tip for other travellers – carry jump leads. To quote the famous expression, “Give a man a jumpstart and you move him for one day, give him jump leads and you move him for the rest of his life!”

Back on track, I drove about 10k to see this.

Now that’s a monument!

In fact, it’s the Vimy Memorial to the 60,000 Canadians killed in WW1.

(For those of you missing slag heaps, the two from yesterday are on the horizon.)

There are formal lawns as you’d expect, but outside of them the terrain has been left. Though green and, in areas, wooded, the shell holes, some 10 to 15 metres deep, are clearly visible.

In fact, it’s all shell holes. And shells! The whole of the top of the ridge has an electric fence and signs like these.

When you see the pitted landscape, it’s not hard to imagine the hell that rained down. Four divisions of Canadian soldiers took the ridge. With its view across the surrounding countryside, it was a massive strategic achievement.

Some of the trenches have been permanently marked out.

What I’d expected to be a ten minute stop en route to Arras turned into an engaging couple of hours.

I had checked the battery when I’d arrived and it had shown fully charged, even after the short journey, and it’s been fine all day. Something to keep an eye on, but it’s a problem I know how to solve. On to Arras.

I arrived at the utilitarian motorhome parking and all the bays were full, with one van hovering in case someone moved. There were a couple of free hookups, so not surprising that vans were crammed in. I reformulated my plans.

I wanted to visit La Carriere Wellington, the Wellington Tunnels, so checked google maps. It looked like it had good parking, so I’d go there and return to the overnight pitch afterwards.

Parking in the ‘camping car’ spot (I could get used to this) I bought my ticket for the next tour, starting at 15:00.

Arras was built from limestone. The stone was mined from quarries under the town. The quarries were all but forgotten until the town found itself on the front line in WW1. British soldiers rediscovered the quarries and a plan was hatched to link them with tunnels to bring forces right under the enemy trenches. Five hundred New Zealand tunnellers, working alongside British miners and engineers, dug 20km of tunnel, naming sections after home cities. Hence Wellington Tunnels.

The tour took us down 20m in a lift to explore a section of the tunnels. We had to wear hard hats. I don’t post many pictures of myself in my blog, but self-ridicule should not be avoided. “They don’t like it up ’em, sir!”

I was the only English speaker on the tour, everyone else was French, but the guide repeated everything for me. The tour was very complimentary to the British. Accounts from the time told how the French were surprised by the good manners of the Brits, and how kindly they treated German prisoners. I felt proud to be a representative of the UK.

“Don’t stand there gawping, Pike!”

It was an entertaining insight into remarkable a piece of history. It’s worth reading the Wikipedia account here.

The memorial to the New Zealanders in the grounds.

After the tour I dashed into the centre of Arras to check out the sights, basically the main square.

Returning to the van, I decided not to try to overnight on the Arras site but to push on to Amiens. It was a pleasant hour’s drive across wide landscapes of industrial scale agriculture, frequently marked by memorials and cemeteries. As I crossed into Somme district, they came one after another.

Arriving in Amiens, I was glad I’d not hung around in Arras. It’s raining, but this is my view.

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