French Road Trip 2 – The Battlefields

Next on the agenda were the Battlefields. I was a tad apprehensive as (1) I’m not into History and (2) it’s really sad!! I had been dragged around most of the war cemeteries by my parents when I was a kid, but obviously when you’re 8 you don’t really take it in, so I wanted to go back as an adult.

The awful events that had taken place there were very evident before we even arrived at our first stop. Just driving along, every few hundred metres you pass another cemetery or monument – we passed monuments to Australian soldiers, American soldiers, German soldiers. It is difficult to take in the sheer numbers of young men who died there. I wanted to see everything but as we were on a bit of a flying visit, we headed straight for the British monument, called Theipval.

ThiepvalThe monument at Thiepval was an imposing brick structure. The sad thing was that inside the massive monument, the walls are covered with the names of the soldiers who died. That gives some indication of how many people died there. There were also many graves on the lawn behind the monument. It was a really peaceful setting and a lovely sunny day in some beautiful countryside, but it was moving to reflect on the tragedy that took place there. I should add that all of these monuments were to commemorate the Battle of the Somme, which was part of the First World War (not the second!). When I came home my Mum told me that my great great uncle’s name is on the monument, but as my family apparently do not communicate, I didn’t know that at the time. In case you’re a bit clueless (like me) there is a good visitors centre with explanations as to what happened, and an interactive map showing the advancing battle lines. The visitors centre and the memorial itself have free entry and free parking and there are also clean toilets.

Graves at TheipvalWe sat on the grass in the car park and had a picnic lunch (more cheese and bread!). This is where a spider somehow got on my head and decided to climb down my sunglasses. So I’m sitting there and suddenly these spiders legs loom into my vision, closely followed by more legs and a body, like a scene out of a horror film. Obviously I jumped out of my skin, as I hate spiders. It just goes to show that no good can come from spending time outdoors!! 😉

Next we drove North to Vimy Ridge. This was really interesting as it has preserved trenches. I have learnt about the trenches in history when I was at school, which seems like a million years ago, but it was hard to comprehend them. I was keen to have the opportunity to visit real-life trenches, to understand more about them. I would recommend this for history buffs, or for kids studying about the war at school.  We were able to walk in the trenches and explore the different areas. Some parts, like the gun holes, were still intact.

Trenches at Vimy RidgeThe Canadian Monument was very near to Vimy Ridge so we stopped there too. The grass all around Vimy Ridge and the Canadian Monument was fenced off, with signs saying “Keep Off – unexploded mines!”. Perhaps naively, I had no idea there were unexploded mines in France, and I was quite shocked.

Canadian Monument nr. VimyThe evening was spent in Arras, a town near Vimy. Arras was really pretty and had a distinctive style of architecture (photo below). We weren’t able to spend a lot of time in Arras, but we enjoyed wandering around looking at cute shops and restaurants.

Arras, FranceNext blog: French Road Trip 3 – Lille

Previous blog: French Road Trip 1

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