DAY THIRTEEN: THURSDAY DECEMBER 2
Sitting in the coach (Friday) on the way to Fromelles listening to the Dixie Chicks while catching up on the blog. I can hear the groans of my sons .. “Oh mumsie what is that rubbish you are listening to!” One has to just love the inventor of the ipod! I feel so content and just loving every minute of what we do however I better get back to work and the story of Thursday….
What weather! The snow is very deep and the air temp arctic. However we push on through our itinerary and commemorations with good humor and loads of feeling and respect. Today we would have a Canadian focus in the area of Vimy and Arras. Firstly though, it was off the Serre Road Cemetery which was completely blanketed in powder snow. The last time I was here was in 2007 on the Premier’s Anzac Prize trip in April ……spring. At that time the countryside was awash with colour, the yellow of the sunflowers in the fields and the many colours of the tulips dotted around the graves. Then it was a symphony of bold colour, now the whole place was white and eerie. Still beautiful but oh so different. Lovely. Little Lachy did another very personal and heart -warming commemoration. What a surprise packet that lad is. Chelsea is another one who has thrown herself into the stories of the men from her district in Mount Pleasant. Her research was extensive and her contacts with local residents thorough. Well done guys.
From Serre Road it was off to the Canadian chapter that is Vimy Ridge. The peace park here is an impressive place with an equally significant narrative. The tours here are free and are run by students from Canadian universities who donate their time while on sabbatical. Each time we come here I have been impressed by their professionalism and the effective way they engage with the kids. Walking through the trenches was a cold and slippery affair so we cut short what we would normally cover. It was a relief to go underground into the labyrinth of tunnels where the men who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. Our guide told us that the only men allowed to sleep underground were the top officers and the runners. The lower ranks and junior officers had to sleep in the trenches in weather like the conditions we were experiencing. Unbelievable! This place is quite confronting. Hungry tummies and a desire to reacquaint ourselves with GREEN vegetables meant that the lunch stop at the Flunch restaurant was really welcome. I was starving! The system of how these restaurants was soon worked out and the kids piled their plates high with yummy tucker.
After lunch it was another underground visit; this time to the tunnels of Arras. These are incredible as they cut through the chalk underground quarries beneath Arras. The original quarries established in the Middle Ages were connected by many kilometers of tunnels constructed by the New Zealand troops and to be used by the armies planning the attack at Arras in April 1917. What an undertaking this was. Dotted throughout the tunnels were personal carvings and graffiti made by the soldiers as the waited for the attack. Even a small makeshift chapel with cross….very poignant. From the tunnels it was back to the final commemorations of the day by Emma, Beth and Oliver. Emma’s relative George McBride was a Canadian and it was appropriate considering the stories we had heard in the morning, that we now have one of our own who took part in the Vimy offensive.
Today I commemorated my great, great, great uncle George McBride. It was a new experience as this was the first time I had been to a relative’s grave and was unsure how I would react. Leading up to the cemetery I was quite nervous. However once I got to the grave I had an amazing feeling of calm and love. George has become so special to me as I never knew about him before the trip and now I feel so close to him.
As we approach the two thirds of our trip I look around the room in awe of the fact that not one single person looks miserable at the dinner table. Julie said we would become one big happy family and until now I didn’t believe her. I have so much trust in these guys, and I share things that I wouldn’t tell my family or my closest friend. They have become my new brothers and sisters and I love then to bits. Every single one of us is unique and bring something different to the group. We’re and odd bunch but I think that’s what makes us click so well. Apart from my family and friends, washing machine and bed, I don’t want this to end.
There was so much snow today! A highlight was definitely Nick massively stacking it because he was scared of Flo! Poor Richard, I felt bad about all the snow going on the bus! The underground tunnels were pretty cool. We hated our fish patties for entrée.
Our return back to Amiens was via Bullecourt and a visit to Jean Letaille’s private collection of WW1 artifacts. The kids immediately warmed to him and despite our time there being fairly brief, it was a worthwhile time for the kids. We had one more soldier to commemorate Thomas Bray at Bazentin-le-Petit Military cemetery. Oliver was meant to do this a few days ago but various things happened that prevented him from doing so. So there we were in the dark and unbelievable cold looking for a grave at night! The oldies across the road were peeking out of their cottage window obviously trying to work out what we were up to. Thankfully this is a tiny cemetery so the grave was located fairly easily. Eventually dinner and bed were with us. Another long but rewarding day.
PS If you think I have performed some tricky little manipulations to give some of the photos a soft focus look, it is only the condensation and snow on the lens, but I'll take it. Mal
To December 3rd