Sunday, 12 October 2014

Day 160: Villers-Breteneuvre to Ypres, Belgium Sun 12 Oct, 2014

Day 160: Villers-Breteneuvre to Ypres, Belgium Sun 12 Oct, 2014
Woken before alarm by shotgun blast - what the…?? Damp and foggy morning, condensation running down walls of vinyl window coverings. Also discovered whole back of bed (pillows, sheepskin, mattress) all wet, apparently from our hosing down of exterior yesterday. Mopped up, and left our decidedly muddy camp towards Battle of Somme fields. Around corner came across pheasants scuttling through field of black-faced sheep, and around next corner, shooters with guns and dogs. (Heaps more shooters in wellingtons in misty countryside - obviously pheasant season) Cranes and hawks breakfasting in field.

Hide me! Hide me!
We saw nothing, nothing...


We have largely been following the Australian Remembrance Trail along the Western Front. Stopped in Albert to see Trench Museum, beside Notre Dame de Brebieres. Legend said the war would end when the gilt statue of the virgin and child on top of basilica finally fell. It didn't. The story is illustrated on wall mural on side of a house, ironically backed by replacement statue. 


Walked down into and along trenches with relics salvaged from land over past 100 years. Grottos showed vignettes of daily life in trench warfare, mines, incursions, mud/foot rot, thought they'd be there very short time but Germans so heavily entrenched suffered 1.2m dead/ severely wounded to gain less than 10 miles of country. Somme was one of worst defeats of WWI. One of themes emerging from our exploration of the northern battlefields is the effective use of propaganda (all sides) to attract waves of recruits beyond enlisted or conscripted soldiers; they used every emotion: fear, revenge, guilt, bravado, desire....

Was this an Aussie larrikin??

Obviously not used to females in forces

Stopped to see crater left by explosion of Lochnagar Mine on first day of Battle of the Somme. It was the largest ever detonated at the time, considered the loudest man-made noise in history, reports suggesting it was heard in London!

Names on planks of boardwalk

Stopped briefly for grocery top-up, and (the now usual!) McDonalds coffee and wifi. On through Arras. Stopped beside Cabernet Rouge cemetery to make our lunch, with its view of Vimy Ridge. 

On through Lens, more working class terrace houses (ugly!!) mulluck heap, head frame - maybe coal mining? Mounds of turnips. More shooters beating fields in a line, one with bird in hand (Run Pheasant Run!!). 

Passed old bunkers on outskirts of Fromelles, its war cemetery video representation too graphic, too moving. The German line was taken by handful who finally made it, then slowly lost ground again by exhausted troops, with no backup. Would Australian commanders have made better decisions for our boys than British?? How could they continue fighting such a fruitless campaign on French soil whilst its own citizens stayed home with their families???

The Grieving Mother

Drove circuit of allied and German lines, stopped at cemetery on the no mans land in between, where more than 400 unknown Australians remain buried in mass, unmarked graves, crosses set into ground. Too much suffering, too much war. We were overloaded enough for one day, turned towards Ypres, Belgium via Frelinghien.

Australian Memorial Park

"Cobbers" sculpture by Peter Corlett

Booked into Kemmel stellplatz first night, intend to move to caravan park next door (washing machine for Ann!) second night, plus access to Last Post in town at 8pm, as well as our "breakup dinner" with the Boomers. Found booking-in process was all automatic via machine, including issue of sites (no where to submit request to please be placed together!) and a swipe card to access gate. Settled for drinks at Boomers spot (ours very close to British neighbours with a big dog!) and warmed up left-over pasta for dinner. Bed early in rain and dark....

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