Canterbury to Amiens
We knew that this was going to be a big day and that we would need to make sure that we got to the ferry on time to be able to fit everything in. We rushed through breakfast and had our cases ready in the lobby to be picked up and taken to the bus. All went like clockwork and we were on our way to France. We arrived at Dover and checked the bus in for the ferry, and Richard was told that if we were lucky we could catch the earlier ferry that was leaving in a few minutes. So we drove to that dock and got on just as they were about to lift the boarding ramp. That gained us an extra hour that we would need later in the day. The trip was smooth and uneventful and soon we were driving through the French countryside south to the first of our European commemorations. This was at Wimereux, where the headstones are laid flat on the ground as the shallow soil cannot support the foundations required to stand them up. Michael did his first commemoration here, and then we visited the grave of John McRae, the author of the poem, “In Flanders’ Fields”. Julie read the poem to the group and asked us to reflect on the meaning of those words from a soldier’s perspective.
“It was a great sense of pride to know that you are representing your family who couldn’t make it to the grave of their loved one. I was more emotional than I thought I would be”
From here we made our way to Etaples. This town on the coast was the site of a number of training camps and where soldiers would often have their final training before heading to the front. Some of the stories of the training here are quite brutal; perhaps the drill sergeants thought that they needed to harden up the soldiers for the horrors they would face in a very short time. There was also a large field hospital here and many men died during treatment. Therefore the cemetery here is huge with 10816 burials. You could almost hear the student’s minds contemplating the enormity of the loss that all of those headstones represented. The rows of white stone almost seem endless as you scan the view from one side to the other.
Today I commemorated Joseph Victor Truscott. As we walked into the cemetery I was speechless. There was so many headstones, it was like a sea of white.
The next commemoration was at Abbeville where Alysha commemorated Albert Charles Hunter, who was born in Wellington but attended Meningie Public School.
We then headed to Rouen where there is another huge cemetery located within the civilian cemetery for the city. As Richard attempted to drive down the perfectly good road and officious looking Frenchman on a bike and road up to tell us that no cars were permitted in the cemetery, even though there were two parked right next to us at the time. So he turned the coach around and parked immediately outside the gates. Bianca commemorated her first soldier here as the sun was sinking into the west and had just finished when the man on the bike came to tell us that the cemetery was closing and we would need to leave. Just as well that we caught the earlier ferry. Julie felt like mentioning the fact that we were visiting graves with a Rising Sun badge engraved on them that represented the sacrifice that Australia had made in defense of his country, but thought better of it.
Commemorating John at his final resting place was a very proud moment and very moving that I could tell his story on behalf of our family.
From Rouen we backtracked for many kilometers and made our way to Amiens. A quick meal and then to bed ready for the first day on the frontlines.