Day 22. Arras, France – Somme Battlefields

Villers Brettoneaux Australian Memorial

Sorry about the delay but I’m writing on Day 23 from Rye in Sussex, a beautiful ancient village near Hastings where my 25th Great Grandfather (don’t say anything smart my so called friends who like to take the piss out of me regarding this fact in my family heritage) – William the Conquerer led the Normans in defeating King Harolds Anglo-Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Harry was killed in the battle and William was crowned king at Westminster Abbey the following Christmas Day. Ok, got that out of the way.

Now yesterday, it was Phil from Sacred Grounds Tour’s who had us for the day. He was great, there was us, plus a woman from between Melbourne and Bendigo named Sue, who was also doing the 2nd day in the Flanders battlefields which is about 180km away. Phil is a Aussie who married a French woman 14 years ago, her family are from Arras, they have a daughter ( Madelaine) and his business is battlefields tours and he’s good at it, lots of fun, lot of knowledge. He’s just finished renovatin a B&B called something like Chez Madelaine, he’s sending the details to Sonya. He’s keen to meet Sonya who he said has sent him many clients, and I have to say he’s a gem.

Trench lines still evident near Beaumnt -Hamel in the Newfoundland area, they lost almost every soldier sent on the 1st of July 116, first day of the Battle of the Somme
The beautifully kept graves are maintained by the Commonwealth war Graves Commission
The 2nd poppy at the Pozieres cemetery
Poppies in a field in the Somme
A poppy for Arthur James (Mick) Coombes – killed in the Battle of Pozieres between 22-25th July 2-16 at Villers Bret

He gets the details on my relative who was the 1st Battalion, and was killed between 22-25 July 1916 at the Battle of Pozieres. See yesterday’s post. His name is on the Villers Bretoneaux wall for soldiers killed with an unmarked grave. His body would be in either one of two cemeteries as ” A Soldier Known Only to God” or still under the ground in a battlefields. We tour allied and Australian cemeteries ( they are everywhere in the Somme valley) area, the battlefields of Pozieres, Baupame, Villers Bret, Albert, Le Hamel and others we know of from books. They are still finding 1 tonne of unexploded ordinance in the Somme battlefields every week, and human remains are still coming to the surface in the lovely farming country of the Somme where they grow corn, sugar beet, potatoes and other stuff. We alos see the Lochnagar Crater, 91 metres wide and 1 metres deep due to a huge underground mine exploded under the German lines. They even have vegetable vending machines in the villages. The amount of blood spilt in this small area its no wonder that they can grow almost anything. We finish at the Australian National Memorial at Villers Bretonneux and the Sir John Monash Centre. I leave a crocheted poppy given to me by Caroline, my cousin Ian’s wife at the memorial under the spot where my Great Uncle Arthur James Coombes name is listed, the other I leave the other poppy at the grave of an unknown Australian soldier at the Pozieres Cemetery. At this cemetery I find the grave of an unknown Australian soldier killed with the same date 22-25th July 1916 and from the 1st Battalion, maybe it was him, who knows, so many died, 7,700 men of the 1st Division (of which the 1st Battalion belonged) died just in this battle from 23rd July to 3rd September. 1/3 of the deaths are unknown soldiers in the Somme, 2/3’s are unknown in the Flanders battlefields.

Lunch is at a small restaurant/cafe in a village owned by an English couple, lovely home cooked food, all inclusive in the tour.

We visit the Australian memorials for the 1st, 3rd and 5th Divisions and other sites. So many things to see and try to remember. All I really remember is thinking what a god forsaken mess this war made to so many men and their families from all over the world. The motto “Never Again” is great, but idealistic and unfortunatley WWII and the other slaughter that has happened as well as what Putin has done in the Ukraine tells me that the lesson hasn’t been learned yet. Maybe never will be.

Anyway you look at it has been a very informative and enlightening day thanks to Phil. Well done, I recommend him highly.

Phil drops us back at Arras Holiday Inn at 6pm, time to pick up our bags and make the short walk to Arras train station for our 7:20 something pm train to Paris. Then its on to the 9:13pm Eurostar to London and a short walk to our hotel, The Crestfield Hotel. The Crestfield is in a dark street, all sorts of strange people lurking in the shadows, bit scary walking there so late at night but the rooms are clean, and so tiny that a pygmy couldn’t swing a small cat in there. We struggle with the steps up 2 floors in a very skinny stairway, but make it a fall into bed. Its cold outside but the room is warm so The Navigator turns the fan on to keep us cool.

Another day on the road travelling, a long tiring day but very good.

Cherio from London – Pauolo


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