Somme and Ypres Battlefield tour By Trevor Bailey / Geoff Harriman
Day 1 Thursday.
Long but trouble free trip down to Folkstone. Slight detour to collect L/Cpl Linley from Aldershot. A serving member of 16 sigs who joins us on this journey. Just the one visit today to Vimy Ridge. A spectacular memorial to the Allied Canadian soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice in WW1. After a couple hours here we then headed straight to our first hotel in Arras, France. We had travelled through night and it was 32 hours ago we last slept. We also had an elderly contingent, with 2 ninety plus year olds, who really needed to rest up. So after checking in, we had a power nap, shower and brush up and popped out for a well deserved dinner. Not too late a night as we'd a full itinerary for tomorrow.
Started with the normal french breakfast, bread, jam and coffee and juice. Lots to cram in today. Main places to visit were Thiepval Memorial and Newfoundland park. So we started at a short stop at the tank memorial, and windmill memorial. This was the first time tanks were used in anger in any war, so an important addition. Then onto the impressive Thiepval. The towering memorial to all those lost in WW1, but their remains never recovered. The amount of names carved into this massive stone monument brings home the sacrifice of the many. From here we went to Avril Williams tea room. Much needed sausage, egg and chips taken on board, and of course tea and coffee. Followed by a personal tour of Avril's personal museum collection of WW1 and 2 relics and memrobillia. Final destination of day, Newfoundland Park. Yet another Canadian memorial. As well as preserved trenches and a visitor centre here, there were 2 main memorials. The baying Carabao, and the Jock, in a frock, on a rock. That ended the days visits so back to hotel we went, to freshen up and head out again for a deserved steak dinner and light refreshments.
Our busiest day was yet to come. We needed to finish off the Somme area, then head on into Belgium for a special evening event. So early start and off to Lochnagar Crater. A near 100ft wide crater caused by allies, tunnelling close to German positions and planting explosives. A little scan of adjoining ploughed field also showed up a couple of interesting artifacts. Shracknell balls, and an almost intact bomb fuse. Then on to Albert, and the Somme 1916 museum. If you've not been here, it's worth a visit. Impressively set under a church, with a great 3d video, and lots of WW1 relics. Quick comfort break, with a cheeky cherry beer, and we were off to Belgium. Having arrived at our hotel, we had time to grad a bite eat and a drink or two, before we all freshened up, and dressed in our finest to attend the last post ceremony held at Menin Gate. 5 of our group were laying wreaths, and Geoff had the honour of being a part of the ceremony too. There's a video taken by me, to show his involvement. So we headed back hotel to get our anticipated dinner, we pre ordered. Just a mention here for our hotel the Hostellerie Daiseldaele. This was our second time stopping here, and again top notch rooms, food and service. Whenever we are in this area again, we will be coming here. So a toast to absent friends ended the day. Full day on for tomorrow, watch this space.
Today we had our first hearty breakfast. Nice to have more than bread n jam. Can’t recommend this hotel enough if you’re ever in the area. So firstly on to Tyne Cot. This is the biggest British war cemetery. 2 VC winners are buried here and we found then both along with a couple of local Staffs reg lads. From the neat, straight pristine lines of this allied site, we moved on to Langemark, where there’s a German WW1 cemetery. In comparison this was a depressing and dreary place. The sun started to boom down so we moved on into the gardens of the Passchendale Memorial Museum. A new one on all our travellers, being a first for us all. Overall ok, however. The interactive headsets are fiddly, and difficult to hear if you use any sort of hearing aid. Also we had a few who couldn’t negotiate the many steps. There is a way of using lifts, but it tricky, makes distance around much longer, and you have to miss out a few elements of the museum. So bigger thumbs up for the more able. So from here it was Hooge Crater. Not a bad little museum here. My advice take the package deal. Drink, sandwich and museum entrance for €12.50. Sandwiches here too well recommended. To conclude the travelling we went Essex Farm Cemetery. A former WW1 dressing station, and the place where John McCrae penned the poem, “ in Flanders field”. So back to hotel to clean up and change, and prepare for our excellent steak dinner. Then early night. Few more places to see tomorrow, then the long drive home.