Visit to the Somme Battlefields March 2019
Setting off from the school at midnight is rarely an ideal scenario for a good night’s sleep. Thankfully, most of us managed the odd “petit somme” on the coach. Sitting on a stationary coach whilst shuttling along under the channel is always a surreal experience – I think the students enjoyed it.
We eventually arrived at the largest Aquarium in Europe (rather aptly named “Nausicaa”) in Boulogne. Very impressive it was too…
After the uplifting experience that was “Nausicaa” we managed to find our way back to the errant coach (more of this later….) and on to the more sobering raison d’etre for the trip. The memorial to the Canadian forces at Vimy Ridge near Arras. The scale of the structure is breath-taking, notwithstanding the reason for its existence, the commemoration of the 11,241 (identified) casualties of the Canadian Expeditionary Force who have no known grave.
Another bracing walk brought us back to the coach – thankfully where the driver left it – and on to our modest accommodation, The Chateau de Warsy…
After the evening meal, the lads were taken under the wing of the resident instructors who, somewhat naively, thought they could tire them out. Eventually, we all retired for a much needed sleep.
Day 2 started well, a very continental breakfast of croissants and pain au chocolat. Spurred on by our very time mindful driver, we all boarded the coach and promptly got lost… in the village. Sacre bleu!
On to the town of Albert, rather bizarrely twinned with Ulverston, and the amazing WWI underground museum. We got the feeling that the coach driver thought he was in the Lake District…
On to the extraordinary spectacle that is the “Lochnagar Crater”. The result of the biggest explosion of the entire conflict
“In This distant Land, Will Some Kind Hand, Lay a Flower on His Grave for me”. One of many very sad, poignant epitaphs that surround the entire crater.
The allied miners tunneled for almost 4 miles and laid 60 thousand lbs of amonial explosives under the German fortifications. This was a common practice on both sides and inevitably resulted in huge loss of life.
Some of the students had made porcelain poppies in art. These were laid at the memorial at Thiepval. Again, this a colossal monument to the British troops killed in action on the Somme.
The memorial to the Newfoundland Regiment is an eerie and unsettling place and the scene of a disastrous assault on the German lines. The land on which it lies was bequeathed to the Canadian nation by the French.
Day 3 saw us leaving the splendid chateau and head home via the inevitable visit to the chocolate factory… a place that is notoriously hard to find, especially with a coach driver who obviously hadn’t studied map reading or geography at school.
On eventually arriving close to the channel tunnel, we were met with MILES of trucks queued waiting due to the French Customs holding industrial action – who would have thought? The boys accepted this extremely well, considering we joined this queue of trucks for no apparent reason other than our driver thinking it was a good idea… some three hours later we boarded the shuttle for home!