Day 8 14th April Arras
Due to European law, our driver has to have a day off every 6 days which is fair enough. This meant we got to spend a full day in Arras just walking around this beautiful old city, originally a hub in the Roman Empire, and take in the atmosphere and sights of Northern France. Some chose to go to the laundromat and het some timely washing done while others shopped, and shopped some more. There was an exposition in town on the archaeology of World War 1 which turned out to be an amazing display showing the techniques used to uncover this part of history and enlightening us even more on some aspects of the war itself. Lunch was a find your own affair so some had a pleasant meal in the sun on the sidewalk of a street café while others had pizza.
After lunch we headed to the Wellington Tunnel’s Museum. I approached the man at the front counter and said that we were Connecting Spirits and had a booking from Jackie Bedford. He looked at me in a very stern way and said that, “if you are with Jackie Bedford then get out of my museum now!!” The look on my face must have given him the reaction that he wanted as then he winked at me and his face lit up with a huge smile at the humour of his little joke!!! I must say that I was very relieved and the rest of the visit was fantastic. We even got a good discount. These tunnels were originally limestone quarries dug out underneath the city of Arras in the Middle Ages to provide building materials for the local area. During World War 1 these quarries were joined by tunnelling companies to produce a network that could hold 24,000 men. This number spent a week underground in April 1917 in readiness for the Battle of Arras on the 9th April. That morning exits from the tunnels into No-Man’s Land allowed the men to quickly move from their front lines in to the German lines taking the enemy by surprise. This proved to be very successful and the British and Canadians further north at Vimy Ridge gained good ground that day. The tunnels still show the signs made by the New Zealnd tunnelers to give the soldiers directions to the latrines , mess areas and of course the exits. There are many artefacts from the period which give you a real sense of the conditions that these men endured in the lead up to that famous battle. Definitely well worth a visit but perhaps don't say that Jackie Bedford sent you!!!
That evening was spent in café’s and restaurants before getting ready to resume our battlefields tour.
Julie asked me "How does this trip and everything that we have seen make you feel?" This was the very first time in my life where I have struggled for words and actually had nothing to say. I mumbled and thought real hard about my choice of words and nothing would come out. I stood there and suddenly I managed to say "This trip is an eye opener, it's given me more appreciation for my life and my families life. I couldn't imagine how I would feel if one of my family members or my close friends from school enlisted and went through what these young boys went through, it's unspeakable."