Our last couple of days’ travels back to Calais have seen us pass through the thick of World War 1 territory. Of course, many areas were devastated by the War, but here, the devastation was so total and the cemeteries are just so numerous that the past does seem to leap up and hit you as you drive along…..
The last time we looked at any World War 1 stuff here was back in 2013 when, on our way back from a trip to Germany and Austria, we stopped off to look at the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge (I have a great granddad who was blown to bits there, for want of a better description, shortly before the start of the Somme offensive in 1916), my great granddad’s name on the wall at the Loos memorial, his brother Harold’s grave at nearby Sauchy-Cauchy (Harold was killed in September 1918 during the retaking of the Canal du Nord; the cemetery at Sauchy-Cauchy is absolutely beautiful) and finally, Ypres for the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate.
This time we were hoping to visit the newish Lens 14-18 museum, but as Tuesday was a national holiday in France (they celebrate 01 May on the day rather than rolling it forward to the following Monday as we do in the UK), it was firmly shut. Not to worry – we’ll be heading South again sometime in the Autumn so we’ll make a note to remind ourselves to visit then….
We had another “new” thing to visit nearby, at the Notre Dame de Lorette national military cemetery. Notre Dame de Lorette is France’s largest national military cemetery, accounting for over 40,000 personnel lost during the First World War (around half of whom are in individual marked graves). Bodies were collected from over 150 different cemeteries around the Artois region after the war and brought here for reburial. This is in sharp contrast to the British approach, which was to leave people in their original cemeteries, as close as possible to where they had fallen. Each to their own, but my main thought was that I’m pleased Harold was left in peace in the cute little cemetery at Sauchy-Cauchy rather than moved to a huge statement cemetery…..
We’d come to see a new memorial here, the “anneau de la mémoire” (“ring of memory”), which was opened in November 2014.
On the inside of the ring are recorded the names of almost 580,000 soldiers of all nationalities who died in this region during the First World War.
It’s quite chilling in a way as it just goes on… and on…. and on….
The names are in alphabetical order, in small print (a new typeface was designed specially for the memorial), and without any other identifiers.
Using my two family members as an example, there are two Harold Hollands and seven William Hollands listed (as well as others who just have an initial or who also have middle names).
Mind you, at least their surname wasn’t Smith:
In total, there are three whole panels of Smiths….
It’s a really nice memorial in that it brings together all nationalities and gives a bit of a sense of the sheer scale of the carnage. It’s not really a memorial to individuals. That’s not a complaint; realistically there’s no room for anything other than names, and part of the power of the place as a memorial is definitely the fact that it’s just name after name after name, with no distractions. The places to go to remember individuals are the many cemeteries and memorials (which commemorate those who don’t have graves) around the region. The Commonwealth War Grave Commission (www.cwgc.org) does a great job of providing information on cemetery / memorial locations for individual soldiers (and no doubt there are similar resources for non-Commonwealth nationalities).
We spent Tuesday night at the really pretty free aire by the canal at Saint Venant. The place was absolutely packed with vans 😀.
The village centre is very attractive:
It’s hard to imagine that 100 years ago it was little more than rubble:
Today (Wednesday) we’ve done little more than pootle up to Calais and do the obligatory shopping at Carrefour. We’re now safely parked up at the ferry terminal ready for a very early start tomorrow morning…..
One thing that’s crossed my mind over the last couple of days is: However did we manage before mobile internet got so good and so cheap?
Last night we booked our ferry from Ireland back to the UK in August. Normally I do a bit of research a week or do beforehand, checking out the sailings and the prices from all of the different websites so that, come the time to book, I’ve got a good idea of what we want, at what price, and which website we’re most likely to achieve it with.
Once again, though, the Caravan Club (♥️♥️♥️) threw an absolutely outstanding (= probably wrong?) price into the mix so we decided to grab it there and then. The same thing happened earlier this trip when the Caravan Club sold us a return crossing to the Isle of Wight for half the price Wightlink were asking direct…. We did wonder if they’d let us on the ferry, but they did, no problem at all……
Today we found out that we need to be in Worthing on the South coast on 23 May. Our ferry booking to the Isle of Man is on 21 May. Hmmmm 😞.
We contacted the Isle of Man Steampacket (“Steamracket”, muttered Mark in the background…). Full marks to them for getting back to us quickly, but of course this is the period heading into the Isle of Man TT and the ferries do book up a year in advance….. So 21 May it is (we’re then booked from the Isle of Man across to Ireland, hence the Ireland-UK booking in August).
The solution we ended up with is that I’ll take SOK across to the Isle of Man on 21 August, Mark will head down to Worthing on the 22nd so as to be there on the 23rd, then fly from Gatwick up to the Isle of Man in the evening. We’ve booked the train and the plane, so it’s just the automobile and a hotel room to organise later this evening and he’ll be good to go….. We’re SO grateful to modern technology for making this kind of thing possible 😎