northern France July 2018

Nov 29th, 2018, 03:21 PM
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northern France July 2018

A report on a trip to Northern France and Belgium, July 2018.

My wife and I both 50+ ...that’s a big plus.... travelled from Canada to London, Northern France and Belgium in early July. The focus of the France/ Belgium part of the trip was to visit WW1 sites related especially to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment memorial in the Beaumont Hamel area (located about midway between Amiens and Arras) and sites in the Ypres region of Belgium.

My grandfather (we called him Granda ) known to has friends as Charlie, served in Belgium, 1917/18. He was one of the lucky.....lucky not only to return home, but to return with all his limbs and faculties. I’ll call him Charlie in this narrative just to keep it less personal. Charlie died when I was a teenager and I have great memories of him and the time we spent together. My everlasting regret was in not taking advantage of the opportunity to talk to him about his own teenage experience in the Great War. But as a typical teenager other things were more important and life has no end.

Charlie’s cousin, Garland, served at Gallipoli and France but was not as lucky. He was killed at Beaumont Hamel, July 1, 2016. In one of my early posts I mistakenly referred to Garland as Charlie’s brother, but my dad later set me straight.

Garland became even more of a personal interest when an original document certifying that he “laid down his life for King and Country, July 1, 1916,” landed at my door. Some lady bought an old frame at a yard sale, only to find the certificate backing other photos. Thanks to her appreciating the importance and having the perseverance to find some relative, it ended up with my dad, probably one of only a few people to know who Garland was. So that sort of makes me feel some responsibility to keep Garland’s memory alive.

So there lay the basis of our trip...Charlie and Garland.

Before going further I would like to again acknowledge and thank all those on those on this forum who answered questions and gave me so much advice. A special thank you to Ernie, for your help, and the package of books and information that you sent me. Now you cannot expect more from a complete stranger, can you? The forum was invaluable and helped me plan a fantastic trip. I strongly recommend anyone reading to take advantage of the knowledge from the great people on this site.

I did say that I would write a trip report and have been procrastinating for some time now. But on Remembrance Day, I made a commitment. This is a start and over the next few days / week or so I hope to review my notes, photos and memory to flesh out a reasonable account.

Planning began last winter.

We decided to fly out of St John’s Newfoundland direct to London. That is about a 5hr flight. The alternative involved 14 to 20 hr travel through Montreal or Toronto which is very tiring even though a few hundred dollars cheaper. Also flying 3 hours west and then another 3 back east again is not all that appealing.

The plan was to spend a couple of days in London then take the train to Lille France, explore some of northern France and Belgium and return via the same route.

Through the winter I immersed myself in WW1 history and research into my grandfather’s time there. A vacation quickly morphed into something more of a winter hobby. It turned into a WW1 history course, a family history review, a geography lesson and a whole lot of enjoyment. It also brought me closer to family as I pressed my Dad, uncles and aunts for information; as well as museum staff, provincial archives and whoever I could find to learn more.

WW1 history was covered in the school curriculum and I thought I knew it well enough. I think my biggest revelation was not so much with the chronology and big picture events, but with the horror, and inhumane conditions that these young boys were subjected to, and realizing the fear and hopelessness they must have felt. I always found it strange that whenever I asked Dad or his siblings what their father had told them of his time in the war. The reply was always the same... "he didn’t really talk much about it". Now I think I understand, or at least have some understanding. There is no glory here; just suffering and agony.

We took the overnight flight to London, landing early morning. I thought I was going to get a reasonable nap, but a snack was served about an hour after departure and then an early morning breakfast, so that doesn’t leave much naptime.

Customs at Heathrow was exhausting. There must be a better way. We were an hour and half in line, shuffling a few feet every 5 to 10 minutes. I swear I almost fell asleep standing!

Both of us packed very light, me just a packsack and my wife with a carry on. That made things a lot more convenient, not having to go to baggage pickup and so much easier getting around for the whole trip.

We took the tube to King’s Cross station.... I actually fell asleep.... and then a short 5 minute walk to our apartment from Studios 2 Let at Cartwright Gardens. But check in time was hours away so we spent some time milling around a nearby park. The apartment was tiny, just one room with a bathroom, little kitchenette and just enough space to squeeze around the bed. But location was perfect with easy, direct access from the airport, close to the tube station and the Eurostar at St Pancreas Station.

I won’t dwell on our 3 days in London, but we took in a play, did an Oxford/Cotswolds tour with “London Walks”, and spent some time downtown at Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, British Museum and the British Library which was very near our apartment.
Jim143 is offline  
Nov 29th, 2018, 03:56 PM
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Signing on Jim, as we're beginning to plan our Northern France trip next fall. We're travelling from Toronto.

I've started a thread already on that, and it's so wonderful how generous people are with their knowledge.

I'll check back in once you get across to Lille.
sugarmaple is online now  
Nov 30th, 2018, 04:36 AM
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Thursday July 5

Took the Eurostar from St Pancreas Station to Lille France, about 1.5 hour ride. Spent the night at Hotel Lille Europe which is just a few minutes’ walk from the train station. The room was comfortable, no air conditioning, but a fan made it quite comfortable for the night. I took a little walk over to the Hertz office to make sure that an automatic was available. I’ve heard of people being surprised to find at the last minute that they had to accept a standard, so just wanted to make sure.

We walked down to the main square and had some pasta at a place called Bistro Romain, then explored the downtown area for the evening.

Friday July 6

Breakfast at the hotel was 10 euros each and was quite nice with a good variety of breads cheeses, cereals, and fruit. The breakfast dining area is surrounded by windows which provided interesting street views of the early morning activity.

We walked over to the train station to the Hertz office and picked up our rental car. It was a Hyundai Tucson. I was hoping for something smaller but I guess all the smaller cars are standard.

I brought a TOM TOM but only had France maps. For Belgium I had planned to use either a navigation app called “Here WeGo” or Google Maps. I tried both as we travelled around Belgium ....sometimes simultaneously, but found Google maps easier to use and actually ended up using Google maps almost exclusively for the duration of the trip.

Things got off to a bad start when I couldn’t find my way out of the parking garage. The exit wasn’t obvious and I missed it twice. Then I got a bit flustered as I didn’t have the GPS set up, missed my exit and ended up going some 10 kilometers in the wrong direction before having a chance to get back on track. But it was a happy mistake as the drive towards Ypres was wonderful and we had lots of time. I didn’t even notice passing a border.

There was no trouble finding hotel Kasteelhof t’Hooghe. Thankyou, Spiral for that recommendation.

There are two separate buildings, one fairly modern. I had requested a room in the older main building. It was a big room on the second floor with a small balcony and air conditioning. Very comfortable and we were pleased. Our view was of the Hooge crater, result of a huge British underground explosion in 1915.......It is filled with water now and covered in a green algae.

Adjacent to the hotel is an amusement park, ironic considering this area was the site of such death and destruction.

We walked just next door to the Hooge museum cafe for a sandwich lunch and then visited the attached WW1 museum. It is a private museum, very well done and more extensive than it looks from the outside. There were lots of WW1 artifacts. We spent about an hour browsing the exhibits and it made a very good introduction to the next several days.

The hotel grounds have preserved a section of the battlefield with remains of trenches, two concrete bunkers and a walking trail which circles the Hooge crater. A few sheep wander around the grounds. A somber setting, but we could hear the squeals of delight from the fairgrounds next door. What a contrast!

I did not know it when I booked the hotel, but later found that Charlie’s regiment actually passed right through here in the fall of 1918 and he probably would have slept somewhere in the immediate area.

We drove into Ypres late afternoon. Still not sure of the pronunciation, but people seem to say it differently...probably depending on whether it’s from Flemish or French. Anyway, I’ve been saying "ee prus". On our way we passed through what was the dreaded Hellfire Corner...just a roundabout now. I didn’t want to venture into the downtown so we parked on Hoornwerk just south of the Menin Gate. This location was very convenient with access across a pedestrian bridge into the Ypres central area. The Market Square was being set up with a jumbo screen for the evenings soccer match.

Had super on the square in a nice restaurant called Les Halles. I had a chicken with a mushroom sauce and mash potato and my wife had a Flemish stew. We were both pleased. Our meal cost about $60 CAN which I thought was very reasonable. Many patrons were displaying face paint with the black/ yellow /red Belgian flag colours in anticipation of the upcoming soccer match between Belgium and Brazil. On one of the side streets there was a line of black/yellow red lady’s bras draped above the street and laid out in the Belgium colours...creative.

About 7:40 we walked up to the Menin gate but quickly realized should have went earlier as there were already a few hundred people there and we were left outside stretching to see the goings on inside the gate. There was lots of chatter when we arrived but everything suddenly went quiet. The ceremony was quite moving and I noticed a number of people wiping away tears. I had heard that whole town kept the moment of silence but that was not the case that night. The soccer game had started and the crowd back on the square was noisy. The mood at the Menin gate was somewhat spoiled by the sounds of the crowd cheering from back on the square.

After the ceremony we waited for the crowd to disperse and then went to have a closer look at the monument. It is very impressive but quite heart rendering to see all those names. All those lost lives and shattered families. I was looking for a Newfoundland regiment section...there were British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand but no Newfoundland. It was later that I realized that there are no Newfoundland regiment names listed at the Menin Gate as the missing Newfoundland soldiers have their names inscribed at Beaumont Hamel.

On leaving we passed two elderly gentlemen in semi military attire, talking near the gate. I heard one say “it wasn’t always like this”, and I had the impression that he was disappointed, perhaps due to the interruptions coming from the soccer fans. The periodic cheers did dampen the mood for me.

Back at the hotel we spent the evening light on the patio, watched the sheep grazing in the field and reflected on the day. Sometime late that night I awoke. The big dipper was framed in the balcony doorway. I felt a little pang of childhood home. It had been my great grandfathers’ house and Charles grew up there, actually with the same bedroom. The bedroom window looked out on that very same summer view....the big dipper prominent in the northern sky. My thoughts were on my grandfather with the realization that 100 years ago he would have looked up many nights to that same view with thoughts and longings of home.
Jim143 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2018, 05:27 AM
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on for the ride
bilboburgler is offline  
Nov 30th, 2018, 07:29 AM
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Saturday July 7

It was a good night’s sleep.

We drove to Polygon Wood. This was the location of a number of WW1 battles and is of particular significance to Australians and the site of a memorial to the many Australians killed here. It doesn’t show on Google street view, but there is a large parking lot at the north east end of the wood. We parked there and explored a little of the Polygon Wood area and cemeteries.

Then moved on to the town of Molenaarelst. I had selected a roadside parking spot there as a starting point for our walk. In my research I had identified a number of locations where Charlie would have been, but this was the only one where I could actually walk his route without having to go through farm fields or across rivers or barriers. The Newfoundland regiment advanced from Polygon Wood towards the small hamlet of Keiberg on high ground to the east. Two small roads lead to Keiberg and made a nice circular route of about 6.5 km.

We walked east along a very narrow paved pathway called Spilstaart towards Keiberg. There was no traffic and it made a very enjoyable and relaxing walk through farm fields, scattered poppy flowers lining the way. I’m not sure how long those flower but it was so good to have flowering during the time of our visit. It would have been a much different scene and atmosphere that fall of 1918.

As we walked, I kept searching the horizon to the south east. Finally off in the distance some 5 or 6 kilometres away, I could see the faint outline of a church steeple. It was the church at Dadizeele. Somewhere down in the fields before us, “D” company Captain Herbert Rendell lifted his head out of a shell hole to get his bearing on that church steeple. A shot from a sniper killed him instantly. The steeple was probably the last thing he ever saw. It was an eerie feeling to look across at that view, and my eyes kept moving back to the steeple again and again as we walked. Capt Rendell was a seasoned veteran by the time of the advance on Kielberg. His signature appears on some of Charlie’s records. I’m sure his loss would have been quite a shock to Charlie and the others in the company.

Keiberg is at the crest of the ridge and was a German stronghold with a good vantage point of the fields below. The attack would have involved a treacherous advance.

Spilstaart meets Markizaatastract in a Y intersection at Keiberg. There is a sign board there with description of the WW1 battles in the area and a roadside crucifix. Keiberg itself is not really a town; there are only probably a dozen houses clustered around that intersection. We lingered a little at the crossroads then looped back along Markizaatastract. I kept looking over my shoulder to find the church steeple but it was not visible along that street. I guess that Capt Rendell was shot further north in the area of Spilstaart. That would mean that “D” company went through that area as well, so our walk would have been fairly close to the actual. Altogether the hike was about 1.5 to 2 hours and very enjoyable.

We drove to a nearby little restaurant called De Reutel and just had a snack. Nobody spoke any English but we managed ok, that was until I went to pay and found that they didn’t accept credit card and I had no cash. With some effort on both our parts, the waitress managed to explain to me where to find a bank machine several kilometers away. I’ve been caught a number of times like that, assuming that everyone takes credit card. I need to get into the habit of carrying a safety float of cash.

That evening we went to the Hill 62 (Sanctuary Wood) Canadian memorial, just a short drive from our hotel. The museum near the memorial was closed at that time of day.

It was a beautiful evening and the site was so quiet and peaceful with a view of Ypres in the distance.

Sunday July 8

There is a hearty buffet breakfast at the hotel... cereal, eggs, selection of cheeses, assortment of breads, pastries, fruit.

We drove into Dadizele to the New British cemetery. In my research I had identified a number of Newfoundlanders buried there including two from “D” company who had been killed at Ledegem. For anyone researching these soldiers, “The Rooms” which is the Provincial archives and museum, have an online database called “ died in service” with biographies of all Newfoundland soldiers who died in WW1. It is a great resource. Some biographies included reference to the company served, so I was able to identify at least a few soldiers who were actually in Charlie’s company and who he would have served with. It would have been fantastic to actually identify members of his platoon but unfortunately I couldn’t find anything and possibly no records exist.

The Newfoundland headstones, with the caribou emblem, are easy to find, but easier still as a commemorative delegation had passed through a few weeks previous and there were Newfoundland flags left on all those graves. We paid particular respects to Wesley age 20 and Reuben age 19 both from “D” company and both killed at Ledegem.

As I walked among the headstones at the very back of the cemetery, I came across a familiar name.... Capt Rendell. I hadn’t realized his grave was in this cemetery but here it was. I instinctively turned and there in plain view was the church spire. Whether by design or twist of fate, Capt Rendell lies forever facing that landmark. Ironic

It was such a beautiful day and experience. The cemetery, as all others that we visited, was meticulously maintained. There was a bouquet in the air from all the flowers on the graves; there was the stillness of a Sunday morning and then, as if just for us, the church bells started chiming. Priceless.

We moved on a few kilometers east to the town of Ledegem, following the regiment route.

The town was another site where I could fairly accurately identify “D” company’s location. In a pre battle staging they had lined up along the old railway line north of the Ledegem railway station. The railway is gone now, but the route is a walking trail. As we walked along I could picture the soldiers crouched down under cover of the old railway bed. To the east across farm fields was the attack route and the German lines.

The railway station itself was used by the regiment as a temporary headquarters during the advance, but looks like it may be a private home now.

Ledegem was fairly deserted, I guess being Sunday, and not much was open. We did find a Mexican restaurant called Lupi’s. There is a great garden dining area. We had fajitas, which were very good with a nice presentation but I thought expensive. Our meal was 26 and 29 euro each plus cost of drinks.

Further east again by 4 km is the town of Sint- Eloois-Winkel

We found the D’Hondt Farm, location of the Tommy Rickets memorial. Tommy was only 17 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery during an advance at this farm. The D’Hondt family has graciously permitted a monument to be placed on the farm in memory of Tommy.

At the monument there were wreathes and flags from a recent ceremony for dedication of the 100th anniversary.It was only then I realized that it had been 100 years since Charlie had been in Belgium. That was coincidental and totally unplanned on my part..... what a great stroke of serendipity.

We walked along a back road to the north of the D’Hondt farm. Following the death of Capt Rendell, “D” company was combined under the command of “B” company. While Tommy in “B” company was at the D’Hondt farm, Charlie would have been somewhere just a little to the north. Cows were grazing amongst the farmland; again a very peaceful contrast from the scene on that October day in 1918.

Or next stop was at Courtrai or Kortrijk to see our first caribou memorial, the only one in Belgium. There are 5 caribou monuments at various locations, each commemorating significant WW1 Newfoundland Regiment battles.

Again there were wreaths from the earlier Newfoundland contingent of government officials, Legion representatives and school children. The monument sits at a busy intersection but is quite accessible. We parked on a side street nearby and made a short walk.

Back to hotel and to the crater museum for a light supper. It was busy and going by the accents, patrons included a few British, a party of Australians but most were Flemish.
Jim143 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2018, 08:06 AM
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Fascinating. I spend a lot of time in northeastern France and see these cemeteries and monuments all the time, and they never leave me indifferent although it is even more moving to see people such as yourself discovering these places for the first time. My own (French) grandfather was quite lucky -- in a way -- during the Great War. His village was just two kilometers from the annexed Alsace-Moselle border (people need to learn that the term Alsace-Lorraine is quite inaccurate). Anyway, he became a POW almost immediately and spent all of the war in Germany working on a farm -- which even had legendary farmers' daughters apparently. When I was little, I was quite amused by the way he talked about his wartime experiences and it was only when I became an adult that I realized that his take on the war was extremely callous. Of course just 30 years later, my grandparents and my mother were on the road as refugees, and that was not a nice experience for any of them. I have never lost my empathy for refugees, no matter what their origin.
kerouac is offline  
Nov 30th, 2018, 09:34 AM
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Monday July 9

Checked out of the Kasteelhof t’Hooghe. We enjoyed our stay there. Headed back south into France. Our plan was to sandwich the Ypres area where Charles served, with some sightseeing and then circle back to the Beaumont Hamel area where Garland is buried and then back to Lille. We flipped back and forth in our planning stage as to whether to go to the south east or the south west, but we decided to head towards the ocean. We live on the east coast of Canada so it felt that we should have a look from the other side of the Atlantic.

Made a short side trip into Hazebrouck for some allergy medication at a pharmacy. The druggist did not speak English and it was difficult to explain, but he had us type what we wanted on his computer.

Had coffee at a sidewalk cafe on the town square and picked up some sandwiches for later. Then we continued on to Heuchin. I had booked a bed and breakfast there called the Maison de Plumes.

The guest house is operated by an English couple, Richard and Vanessa. The house is very nicely decorated. There was only one other guest that night and we were upgraded to what they call the parakeet room. The room had black decor, high ceilings and an art deco style. The owners moved there 12 years ago, did a complete renovation and seem to be very proud of their home. Apparently the German military used the house as a command post in the Second World War and Richard had found German graffiti in the attic.

Went into Hesdin for supper and ate at a little cafe called Le Manhattan. We managed to order with the help of another customer who had spent time in New Zealand and spoke broken English. I had a steak but found it very tough.

Back to Maison de Plumes for the night. Vanessa brought us each a glass of wine. Richard and Vanessa were very accommodating and friendly and we very much enjoyed our stay there.

Tuesday July10

Breakfast was down stairs in a formal dining room, and served by Vanessa. Ham and cheese, breads, boiled egg, tea, coffee.

We had a nice chat with Vanessa. She told us that due to some health issues they were not able to go on operating the home and had actually just recently sold. It was a shame as it was obvious just how much work they had put into the house and business and how proud they were of it.

We drove a little south east to Agincourt. Seeing we were so close I thought it good to drop by and see the battle of Agincourt site that I remembered reading about in world history and of course from Shakespeare. There is not much to see really. There is a small monument along the side of the road at the supposed site, but from what I read, the actual location of the battle seems in question, so it felt a bit of a letdown.

Hesdin seemed interesting from our earlier stop so we stopped by again, had a coffee, strolled around the downtown and bought a couple of salads for a picnic on the road, then headed on south through narrow country roads. Driving was good, even with the larger vehicle, and traffic was very light.

A roadside grassy spot with picnic tables popped into view seemingly just for our use and just at the right time. We stopped and had our picnic lunch feeling as if we were in the middle of the forest although we were just by the side of the road. No traffic passed and only for a mother and child walking by, we were all alone.

Drove on south towards Abbaye de Valloires and our room for the next couple of days. The abbey looked like a unique experience and we were not disappointed.

The Abbey is very majestic. Our room was on the 3rd floor and the windows opened onto a fantastic view of the botanical gardens next door.

After we settled in we walked over to the gardens for a walk about took a couple of hours.

Later we drove to the nearby town of Saulchoy to a restaurant called Val d’Authie

We both enjoyed our supper; entre of salmon, beef in a beer sauce with fries and lettuce/ fish in a white sauce. Rhubarb/ raspberry pie for desert...mmm

Back at the Abbey we did a little exploring around our wing of the complex. There was some sort of organ recital in the church and the attendant ushered us in to enjoy. He spoke only French and although both of us have a basic high school level, he spoke so fast we could not understand a single word. However his manner seemed to suggest that there was some significance to the recital. We settled in one of the pews and enjoyed listening to the music from a huge and elaborate pipe organ. That put a nice cap to our day.
Jim143 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2018, 02:26 PM
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Wednesday July 11

Breakfast at the Abbey was typical breakfast fare. There were only 2 other couples in the dining room and probably was all that stayed there that night.

Drove to Le Touquet for our day at the Atlantic Ocean. Le Tourquet was Vanessa’s advice; I had originally had another town selected. Vanessa said that the President has a place there, so we figured it must be good.

We walked the beach but it was very windy, threatening rain and cool, at about 17 degrees. Our original plan was to have a little swim in the ocean but it wasn’t the day for that. One consolation was few tourists. The beach is very wide, flat with fine sand. And for those who might be wondering....the Atlantic Ocean looks about the same from the other side...only the waves are coming from a different direction.

We stopped at a restaurant called La Chope for lunch. It was packed and very busy but our meal didn’t take long. The rain that had been threatening all morning just started to fall as we entered the restaurant, continued all the time we were there and broke just as we were leaving. That worked out well. That was the only rain we had for the whole trip. We had a little walk around town and then back to the Abbey.

There is a lovely walk in the back country around the abbey and through the little village of Argoules. It took us an hour or so and was very relaxing and scenic. One particular field had miniature ponies which were very friendly and we spent some time petting.

We just had a light supper in our room. Sat in front of our window with a couple of beer, enjoyed the view and remains of the day.

Thursday July 12

Checked out about 10 am and drove east to the Canadian war memorial at Vimy Ridge. Walked around the grounds and up to monument. The monument itself is very impressive and quite striking on the skyline.

We continued on to Monchy-le-Preux, the site of one of four Newfoundland caribou monuments in France. This one is a quite different set up from the others, not in a park setting but just located on a foundation by the side of the street.

Our next stop was Masniers, about a half hour drive from Monchy Le Preux. Originally I had not planned to visit this caribou monument as it was a bit far out of the way but it seemed a shame to only visit 4 of the 5 monuments so we added it.

I won’t get into details of the significance of each monument, but we had researched each last winter which added a lot to the overall experience.

Our apartment was at Arras, about a 45 minute drive back west. I had selected Arras as our base for the visit to Beaumont Hamel. The apartment, Les Rositti, was very nice and spacious on the ground floor; newly renovated with modern appliances; a little outdoor patio. It was a convenient location, close to a supermarket and the downtown. On street parking, but I didn’t have any trouble and for the most part, parked right in front. The only drawback was the living room windows were directly on the sidewalk so we kept shutters closed the whole time. There were windows to the rear that gave us natural light. With a couple of exceptions, we booked most accommodations through Booking .com. That worked out well and we were pleased with each. Descriptions were accurate and the staff at Booking .com were very helpful with questions and the couple of changes I had to make.

We spent the remainder of the day walking around the centre of town including Grand Place d’ Arras and Place des Heros
Jim143 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2018, 05:48 PM
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Jim, you're a good observer and writer. I'm looking forward to the rest of your trip report.
Coquelicot is offline  
Dec 1st, 2018, 05:34 AM
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Friday. 13

We drove south towards Beaumont Hamel, about a half hour. Just north of the town we came across a little memorial chapel and two cemeteries. There are cemeteries seemingly at every turn, but these two looked particularly interesting, set into the farm fields with the little chapel, rolling landscape and winding road, so we stopped for a while. One cemetery held French soldiers and the other a West Yorkshire regiment. It has impressed me how well kept all the cemeteries are, all scattered throughout the countryside. Grass freshly trimmed and many cemeteries with flowers on every grave. It must take a lot of effort and a lot of money.

We arrived at the Beaumont Hamel memorial site. The large paved parking lot had a few cars and several buses.

An attendant welcomed us at the gateway and gave us a brief overview of the site. I found it interesting that signage was in French English and German, and I assume that means that there are a lot of German tourists who visit. We registered for the next tour and then walked through the visitors centre while waiting. But that wasn’t long. There were only 6 on the tour. The student guide was very well informed and provided a great background and orientation to the site and description of the July 1, 2016 events. When we told her that we were from Newfoundland, she joked about being nervous of making a mistake. But she was very well versed and a great ambassador for the regiment and the site. I was surprised as to how popular the site was especially for students from Britain and France. Apparently there is an annual visitation of over 200,000. There were about 8 or 10 bus loads while we were there and those were all double decker buses, so probably 70 or per bus.

The guide talk did not dwell on sentimentality but stuck to facts and that was refreshing. Her description included many things that I had not known or forgotten and there is nothing better for context than having the site laid out in front of you.

The park is very impressive, well preserved and provides for a real appreciation of the layout as tied to the events. You can stand at almost any location and view all parts of the battle field from the British lines, to no-man’s-land to the German positions. Surveying the landscape really brought home the impossible situation to which the soldiers were subjected. I had heard the story so many times, probably missed or didn’t appreciate many details, but seeing in person was an unforgettable experience. I felt a heightened sense of emotion the whole time.

The basic attack plan of July 1, 1916 was very simple....... Just get up out of that trench; run down that hill; dodge the bodies and cross fire of enemy machine guns and artillery and get through that barbed wire to the other side. The expectation seems to have been that if enough men were sent, some were bound to get through. Out of the about 800 soldiers in the Newfoundland Regiment that morning, 324 were killed and 386 wounded. Some were killed before even reaching their own front line; most never got past their own barbed wire into no-man’s-land. The slaughter only lasted a few minutes. Garland was one of those who did not return. The need of this tragedy is difficult to understand considering that two earlier waves of soldiers from other regiments had already been cut down and still laid out there dead and dying. The Newfoundland Regiment had been the third wave. You have to ask yourself, where were the commanders and why did they let this carnage continue?

The limit of the tour was at a particular landmark called “the danger tree”, the location of a break in the barbed wire where many of the regiment gathered and died. The “tree” is only a replica now but the location carries much significance. The tour then circled back to the Caribou monument. Here is where those missing of the Newfoundland regiment are honoured.

Now typically I like to have everything fairly strict on drives my wife crazy. My schedule for Beaumont Hamel was almost complete...... Just needed to run back and visit Garland’s gave site, then move on. But as I had stood at the danger tree and looked over the little valley and the Y ravine cemetery I realized, no this tour wasn’t over.

It was near lunchtime and we drove to the nearby town of Auchervilles to Avril Williams guest house. There is a little restaurant there, WW1 themed with reconstructed trenches out back. I didn’t know at the time, but the regiment probably billeted in this town leading up to July 1, and causalities were brought back here.

Following a light lunch we headed back to the Beaumont Hamel site for our own walkabout and visit to the Y ravine cemetery.

As in most of the cemeteries we visited there was a box with a visitor registry. Looking back through the list of visitors we noted scattered names from Newfoundland, one was a former high school teacher who had been there just a month previous. I’m looking forward to seeing him sometime and comparing experiences. But there was no pen and we didn’t have one. So I headed back to the visitor centre, probably over a kilometer round trip. But just passing the danger tree, there in the middle of the path was a pen....what are the chances! If I were superstitious, I would have felt that someone left it there for me, but it was likely dropped by one of the guides....anyway that saved me a long walk.

Garland’s grave is just inside the Y Ravine cemetery gateway. His remains were not recovered until a year after the battle. After all that time I guess it is some consolation that any identification at all was possible. There was no such thing as dog tags and soldiers had an identification card. His stone says “gone and not forgotten by his mother”, and apparently the families provided the epitaph. His mother was a widow when Garland left for war. Remains of another unknown soldier are buried with Garland in this grave. Typical unknown soldiers have their own grave site and headstone, so I am assuming that in this case remains were intermixed. There are a few hundred graves in this cemetery, many unidentified. I was struck by the very few number of Newfoundland graves, probably less than 50. A guide later told me that remains of the others are out in the fields, so actually the whole battle site is one big cemetery.

We continued along the path up towards the German lines. Their position was very well protected with a clear view of the British advance, no-man’s-land and the danger tree. The Y Ravine itself is behind the German lines and it is quite evident just how strategic that ravine would have been for protection, staging and delivery of men and equipment to the front line. I would have liked to actually go down into the ravine but that is off limits.

The trail circles back around the crest of the valley and on to the start. But I was drawn back. I had to go and look at everything again and visit Garland’s grave site one last time.

I was somewhat surprised at the number of visitors. I was told that Beaumont Hamel is the best preserved WW1 site in France and following our visit I believe that may be true. It is not only well preserved, but the bowl topography is such that you can see the whole battlefield from all locations. Standing at the front line you can see the locations of both German trench lines in the cross fire, the danger tree, the Y ravine cemetery and what was supposed to be the Newfoundland objective some 3 kilometers in the distance.

We stopped at the caribou monument again and climbed to the top for a final view of the site. Several trains of visitors were still at various stations along the route. We made another short visit to the visitor’s centre. With some reluctance to leave, I walked out the gate with mixed emotions; pride in the park, pleasure with the friendliness and knowledge of the guides, a touch of anger with the circumstances and needlessness of the tragedy and sorrow for the young boys left back there and in particular for my own personal connection, Garland.

We stopped to look at some poppies along the road outside of the site and then headed off to our last caribou.

Along the way we stopped for coffee in small town roadside cafe. I don’t remember the name of the town but the restaurant was very tickets, beer, cigarettes. We must have stuck out like sore thumbs. Everybody seems to smoke and there doesn’t seem to be any restrictions on smoking in restaurants which seems so odd to us from Canada where you cannot smoke in public spaces

Our last caribou site was just outside the little hamlet of Guedecourt. It’s just off the road on a small plot of land surrounded by farm fields. Located in the middle of nowhere but again very well maintained. Visiting all of the 5 caribou sites was rewarding not just to say we were there, but adding those to our itinerary pushed us to research each and to appreciate events beyond our original scope.

Completed the circuit back to Arras. The supermarket was only a few minutes’ walk and we picked up supplies to cook supper in our apartment.

Later we walked down to Place de Heros for a beer on the square and some people watching. It was a beautiful night but cool...a good time to sit, relax, reflect and talk about our day.
Jim143 is offline  
Dec 1st, 2018, 07:11 AM
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It is forbidden everywhere in France to smoke in public places, but in tiny localities it is a point of honour to flout the law. You could have had them all arrested.

Last edited by kerouac; Dec 1st, 2018 at 08:02 AM.
kerouac is offline  
Dec 1st, 2018, 07:55 AM
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Just found this. Thanks for the detailed report and congratulations on all the research and planning. BTW, I believe the British soldiers called Ypres "Wipers".
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 1st, 2018, 09:12 AM
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Not all readers will realise that Newfoundland was not to become part of Canada until 1949, some 30 years after WW1. So these guys were from a self governing colony.

I hear that Agincourt was going to have a wind turbine farm stuck in it until the local politicos made a fuss. Did you get to see Crecy?

Last edited by bilboburgler; Dec 1st, 2018 at 09:15 AM.
bilboburgler is offline  
Dec 1st, 2018, 10:02 AM
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Jim, very touching. Good preparation like yours makes travel much more meaningful, as well as your family links.
Coquelicot is offline  
Dec 1st, 2018, 01:32 PM
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OK Final installment.

No we didn't go to Crecy but probably could have easily added it to our itinerary. Yes the preparation added so much to the experience..... it felt more like a 6 month trip if you add all the hours of enjoyment in the preparation. It seemed odd that the location of the Agincourt battle to be disputed. You would think with all that armor and bones, something would have turned up. Wind turbines would spoil the site forever.

Saturday July 14

Headed back to Lille. Out of all the details that I had nailed down, I didn’t bother to identify a gas station for fill up. I figured to just follow my GPS. Did I mention it was July 14? The GPS was useless. I kept circling through downtown Lille trying to get to a gas station but there were so many detours and closed streets that it was impossible….for me anyway. I started to get frustrated and finally said enough; forget the fill up, put the GPS away and concentrated on just getting back to the rental drop-off. Return of the rental had been my biggest fear and stressor, but Ernie’s directions were flawless. Thanks again Ernie. I gave the keys back to the Hertz attendant, expressed my frustration trying to get gas. He smiled and said forget it.

Had a quick lunch then checked in next door at Novatel suites.

We walked downtown and did some more exploring, shopping and later in the evening watched the Bastille Day fireworks.

Sunday July 15.

The Novatel is just adjacent to the railway station so we just walked over to catch the train back to London. We spent another day in London and from there our flight back to Canada.

Overall this was probably the most enjoyable vacation I’ve ever had and I believe I can say that for my wife also. There was a good variety of activities; weather (with the exception of one showery day) was perfect, accommodations great, scenic driving, relaxing evenings, low stress (with the exception perhaps of the gas station search in Lille). But the icing in the cake was to walk in my grandfather’s footsteps and to experience Beaumont Hamel.

This November I went back to my hometown and took my Dad to the Remembrance Day parade. The poppy in my lapel meant something much more to me than ever. Some months ago during my planning stages, my father had given me a wrist watch belonging to my grandfather. Inside the watch case was an old faded poppy. When I got back home I tucked my new poppy next to the old.

For those of you interested in costs, the whole trip, 15 nights, came pretty close to $8000 Canadian, with the two largest items being airfare at $2000 and accommodations at $2200. The most expensive lodging was Studios to Let at $219/night, and cheapest Abbaye de Valloires at $136. Costs in Canadian dollars.

What would I change?

Studios to Let was a great location but check-in was at 2pm, not good for an overnight flight and early morning arrival. They did tell me that we would probably be able to get access late morning but “probably” didn’t happen. I think a hotel for that first night would have been better.

We overnighted in Lille coming and going.... probably over conservative on my part as I didn’t want to take any chances with connections. We could have easily picked up the rental upon arrival in Lille and similarly dropped the car and caught the train on the way back. We did enjoy our time in Lille but we could have had extra time exploring other places.

Our stay at the Maison de Plumes in Heuchin was enjoyable but the town itself is very tiny and with not much of interest in the area. It would have been nice to stay in a larger town.

So there you have it... that was our trip. Hopefully the report is of some interest and useful to anyone planning something similar.
Jim143 is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2018, 02:49 AM
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You did well, southern Lille is always a nightmare for drivers.
bilboburgler is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2018, 04:34 AM
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I always just get on the expressway right behind Lille-Europe and work out where the hell I'm going a little later.
kerouac is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2018, 10:32 AM
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thanks for this wonderful report, Jim. I'm going to print it off and use it for our visit to the area next fall.

We had been considering training to Lille from CDG to pick up a car, might be rethinking that to Reims.

I particularly appreciate the costs, hardly anybody adds that detail.
sugarmaple is online now  
Dec 3rd, 2018, 10:37 AM
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Forgot to ask, is there one area or village/town that you think would serve as a single base for seeing both Ypres and Vimy? We're Canadian too, so distances don't much matter.
sugarmaple is online now  
Dec 4th, 2018, 02:13 AM
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Agincourt bodies etc; there was a lot of dispute about the armour, firstly the English nobility thought it belonged to them as the management, but many commoners (who had killed the guys) thought they suddenly owned a fortune of precision killing equipment (won the lottery), still dissentry meant that hanging around was not wise. So everyone grabbed what they could leaving bodies all over. The Heralds and the French then had to work out who was who, once all the shields and clothing was missing. Ok the teeth would have been of some value but the rest was just so much. Agincourt took 4 days to tidy up (that is known) and wealthy bodies were taken home.

Comments from the Swiss at the battle (they were on the losing side) was that everyone was put in a great big pit, but given the need for consecrated buriel this seems highly unlikely, certainly the area has been fought over before WW1 and various times heaps of bodies have been claimed to be found and one assumes reburied in churchyards, but 5000+! without a comment from the local priest, still the French revolution would have destroyed any such documents. Meanwhile the plough will have turned over small body collections. Arrow heads were still valuable and given that the English king was bankrupt he would have used his 4 days to pick them all up.

What is clear is that if a battle, at this time, happened near a large town then the bodies were put in the local church, otherwise they are seldom found which is why the sites of such battles become "lost".
bilboburgler is offline  

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