Day 6 - 3rd August 2019
Our last day before returning home and plenty of interesting places to see so after breakfast we set off. Our first, brief, stop was at Flesquieres to see the tank Deborah. But since my brother had last been there a new visitors centre had been built and the tank moved inside - and it doesn't open until afternoon.
Should you wish to check the opening times - Visit Deborah at Flesquieres
"Right" he said "We'll go and visit Guillemont church which has a memorial to the Liverpool Pals killed in the battle there, I've been there before. We go that way" he said waving his arm.
"Ok," I replied "we're going that way then" and pointed in the opposite direction.
On the outside the church is fairly normal looking, it blends in with the village, but inside it is very brightly decorated (I believe the theme is peace)
The plaque to the pals is on the wall inside.
Just outside the village, only a short distance away is Delville Wood. On one side of the road is a large CWGC cemetery and on the other the South African Memorial and Museum, which we had come to visit.
When you go through the gate the memorial is at the end of a long walk with a double row of oak trees either side. When the memorial was built in the 1920's acorns were taken from an oak tree growing in South Africa. That tree had in turn been grown from an acorn planted in 1688 by a French Hugenot settler.
Before you pass through the arch ahead you go past the alter stone.
Which is in the curve of these walls.
You look back through the arch past the alter stone to the cemetery,
And then ahead to the memorial and museum
In the centre of the museum is the cross. The whole building is beautiful. It's just a pity that thousands had to be slaughtered to get such a memorial.
When we had finished looking at the museum we (as you must do if you visit) left the building and walked into the woods behind it. All of the trees were replanted by the South African Department of Forestry.
There are wide open "rides" in the same locations as they occupied before the war, each named with street names that would have been familiar to the troops - Regent Street, Bond Street. The names are shown on stone markers.
But either side of them are the real memorials, the remains of the trenches.
As I stood looking at the trenches and wondering how many bodies lay amongst them I got the feeling that they welcomed me, were pleased that people came and remembered them.
There is one tree that wasn't planted after the war, this is the "last tree"
The only one from the original woods that survives. The trunk has pieces of shrapnel embedded in it.
If you are nearby then go and visit even if like me the nearest that you've come to South Africa is watching Nelson Mandela on television.
It was now past lunchtime (for the French) so we went to the Old Blighty Tea Rooms and had a leisurely lunch (with multiple cups of tea of course) and looked at the artifacts there.
Half a click away is the Lochnagar crater. Miners tunnelled to within 100ft of the german trenches and placed two charges 60ft apart, one of 36,000 lbs of ammonal, the other of 24,000 lbs.
We're very effective (good is not the right word) at killing each other.
Our next stop was at Villers-Bretonneux, where on the hillside is a CWGC cemetery, with behind it the Australian National Memorial and behind that the Sir John Monash Centre.
The tower of the Australian National Memorial is pockmarked with scars from WW2, when the German army and Luftwaffe attacked it while it was being used as an observation post by the French.
The Sir John Monash Centre tells the story of the Australians in WW1. The building itself is stunning. I don't think I've ever been in such architecturally amazing toilets. While I was relieving myself in them my brother entertained himself by making using my camera to make a 4k video of him gurning. This was significant later.
On the way back through the cemetery I was looking at the headstones and saw this one
With a small plaque on the ground in front of it added exactly a century after his death.
Every time I read that it moves me. It contains a lesson about service that most politicians will probably never understand.
After there we went to visit the local prison, which might sound a strange thing to do.
On the wall beside the main entrance the plaque saysTo the French patriots killed on February 18, 1944 in this prison where the Nazi barbarians martyred them
Does it look like the wall has been repaired at some time?
As I finished taking that picture and was walking back across the road a group of prison officers walked along the pavement, obviously having just clocked off. They looked at me a bit suspicously as I was taking pictures of their prison. Amiens Prison. "Operation Jericho" I said, and they smiled and nodded.
Up the road is the local municipal cemetery and at the back of that a small CWGC cemetery.
Just after I'd taken those pictures my camera ran out of memory - because I was running with a large memory card I hadn't brought any spares that day. Also I didn't know about the gurning videos otherwise I could have reclaimed plenty, so the last few pictures are going to be from my phone.
We had just one more place to visit now, but as it was going to be very late by the time we got back to Arras we stopped on the way at a branch of the golden arches, sitting outside and enjoying what was almost the last sun of the day.
About halfway along the completely straight road to Bapaume, at about the highest point there are two memorials, one either side of the road.
On the north west side is the Windmill Memorial to Australian forces who died here, and on the south east the tank memorial.
This is where tanks first saw action in 1916. It's peaceful now, none of the horrendous mud that you see in the historical pictures is visible just neat fields in the evening sun.
Around the memorial are four model tanks representing different marques of tanks used.
Surrounding the monument on three sides is a chain fence. The chain is drive chain from some of those first tanks and the fence posts are the barrels of their six pounder guns.
And that was it, we've seen as much as we can on this trip.
We had a gentle ride through the darkness, back to Arras and did as much packing and tidying as we could before turning in for the night.
Distance for the day 123 miles.
The next day was an easy one, get up, have breakfast, finish packing and tidying and head back to Dunkirk and the ferry home. Of course once we were back on the British side of the channel driving standards fell to levels of stupidity that we hadn't seen in the rest of our trip.
152 miles after leaving Arras and I was home, my brother had another hundred to do but he stayed the afternoon before going on.
A month later we met up and headed down to Lake Como for a long weekend, but you'll have to wait a little bit for that tale.