Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In their footsteps

Day 12 – In his footsteps

In July 1916 my grandfather Cuthbert Douglas Adamson arrived back in Amiens with his mates in the 17th Bttn AIF after a stint on the lines in Belgium, en-route to the front.  Over a 5 day period these young men marched from Amiens via 5 little French towns to take part in a battle whose name is etched in the minds of every Australian student of WW1 history – Pozieres.  Today we followed that route.

 We picked up our rental car (a very smart new VW Golf with all the bells and whistles including sta-nav, Tony figured out what buttons to press to make it go and I figured out how to drive the sat-nav, and off we went.

First stop was a tiny little town tucked away on the banks of the Somme River called Argoeuvres.  Picture postcard pretty and at 9.30am still covered in frost.  We left the car and wandered down what looked like the main street.  I stopped in front of a building that had a string of flags across its driveway having noticed the Aussie flag and a little man from across the street called out Bonjour.  Now I knew it was polite to respond but I dreaded finding out he spoke as much English as I spoke French.  He called his wife who came to our collective rescue.  I explained why we were in town and soon two friends came to join the one-sided conversation.  Once I mentioned ‘Australian’ they became even more interested in our little visit and at that point another man arrived, said good morning to the locals and shook my hand – I was then introduced to the Mayor of Argoeuvres!  We chatted for a few minutes and we all went our separate ways with them wishing me quite an emotional ‘good luck with your visit’  It was genuinely lovely.

Back in the car, sat-nav re-programmed for our next stop Carronnette and we were on our way. 

Cardonnette is another farming town, we stopped briefly but it wasn’t as pretty as our first stop so back in the car and off we went to Rubempre

This part of France is farming land, gently rolling land, and even in its winter state still quite green, and everywhere you go, you pass little WW1 cemeteries

 Stop four was Warloy-Baillon

And then to Albert.  A much bigger town, Albert was occupied by the Germans for part of August and September 1914 and following this, re-taken by the Allies and subsequently the subject of many artillery barrages.  The Gold Statue atop the church was hit by artillery on January 15th 1915 and tipped forward till she was hanging over the square – giving rise to the nickname ‘The Leaning Virgin’  The Brits took over the sector in July 1915 and Albert became an important supply depot.

Back in the 13th century a set of underground tunnels were dug under Albert and in 1938 a major reconstruction took place and they were turned into air-raid shelters. After WW2 they fell into disrepair until 1991 when some of the tunnels were renovated and given over to a museum dedicated to the Battle of the Somme.  The museum opened in 1992 and houses a relatively small collection of WW1 memorabilia. 

After a late lunch it was on to Pozieres.  Driving through almost pan-flat countryside it was difficult to imagine how either side got any ‘cover’ from the relentless artillery barrages.  The Australian Memorial is situated on the site of the AIF 1st Division’s first major action in France – at a cost of 5,200 casualties.  Nearby are the remnants of the Gibraltar blockhouse.

Not far from the Australian Memorial is the ‘Windmill Site’ memorial on a ridge described as being ‘more densely sewn with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.’  Between July 23rd and September 5th 1916 Australia suffered 23,000 casualties of whom more than 6,700 were killed.

Just behind the Windmill Site is a brand new memorial – and the one that brought me to tears.  Dedicated only 5 months ago is the WW1 Animal War Memorial. 

And nearby the beginnings of what will be the Pozieres Memorial Park – a memorial to the 7000 Aussie diggers killed in the Battle of Pozieres, 4100 of whom have no known grave.  It’s currently a field of tiny crosses, laid out in the shape of the Australian Rising Sun slouch hat badge with the two main arms pointing to Thiepval and Mouquet Farm. 

Last stop for the day was the massive Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval.  Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens it is the largest Commonwealth War Memorial in the world and lists the names of more than 72,000 soldiers whose graves are ‘Known only to God’  In the small cemetery behind the memorial 300 French, 300 English and a couple of Aussies are buried. Very few have a name on their headstone.

It was getting on for 4pm, the sun was going down and the temperature was plunging so we headed back to Amiens – found our way to our reserved parking under the aparthotel complex and went in search of coffee and cake.

Tomorrow we’re heading north, the Arras, Vimy and the Couin Cemetery where my Kiwi grandfathers uncle is buried.  Hope the weather is a repeat of what we got today.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Let there be light

Day 11 – A wet day in Amiens

We’ve been pretty much on the go the whole trip so far so today was a bit of a down day.  We saw the Cathedral yesterday and ‘m very pleased we did because today saw the yukkiest weather we’ve had so far.  We woke to news of widespread snow all over northern Europe – my friend Leonard posted pics of snow induced transport chaos in Amsterdam, and we saw Atlantic coast storms on the French news this morning. 

We headed into town after breakfast and #1 on todays agenda was to find the Europecar depot, confirm our booking and figure out how we were going to get from the depot out onto the road north to the WW1 sites we wanted to visit minimising our risk of turning onto the wrong side of the road.  On the way we passed the local high school - the playground noise was exactly the same as I get at home.

By now it was raining quite heavily so after a coffee stop we bought a couple of cheap plastic ponchos and checked out the display at the Information Centre, and I picked up another Somme Map.
This accomplished we thought we’d have another wander around town before heading over to the Jules Verne House, only to arrive just as they were closing for lunch.  Sopping wet from mid-thigh down we decided to call it quits on the wandering and head back to the aparthotel and knock off a couple of loads of washing (the joys of suitcase living).

Out again late afternoon for the Xmas Market and dinner.  The market stalls here sell all kinds of food including this stall which had a dozen kinds of salami, and the guy next door selling nougat 

After dinner we got todays absolute highlight – the ‘Chroma’ light projection on the fa├žade of Notre Dame cathedral.  I know when we were in Amsterdam and did the cruise of the Light Festival there I made not so positive comparisons between what we were seeing on our canal cruise and Vivid – and I’m going to do it again, only this time I am absolutely full of praise for the show tonight.  It had started to rain/sleet and my hands were freezing (I can’t take photos on my phone through gloves) but the show was nothing short of spectacular … and every bit as good as the Harbour Bridge projections during Vivid – check out the photos (and the video/s I’ve put straight up on Facebook)  I'm disappointed that these photos really don't do this amazing projection justice.

We pick up the car in the morning and head off on our 3-day WW1 odyssey – stay tuned.