10/19/2017 The Somme – Lest We Forget

Thursday 19th October

A really peaceful quiet night though given some of the comments on the Parkings APP we were very surprised.  So many times we have found just the most beautiful place but because it is so great, seems that the younger generation love it too and come out to play at night and continue playing till the wee hours.

Fully rested we moved on through the countryside passing again through green fields of potatoes – hundreds of kms of potatoes and when the harvesters come in – these become mountains and mountains of potatoes ready for the trucks to come in and take to market.

Camp for tonight:  Aire de Camping-car, Rocroi

Rocoi (Rocroy) is a unique star-shaped fortified town.  Our camp spot sits in a grassy and treed area just outside the moated (though now dry) and walled entry to this town.  The stronghold was first constructed in the 1660’s during the reign of Henry II and modified several times since then.

Rocroi – Ramparts and Moat

It features an inner fortified defence wall with five different bastions projecting from the wall.  There is also an outer wall for both protection and attack.  On this outer wall are demilunes, projections and angles to the walls.  It is a remarkable example of one of the oldest fortified bastion towns in France.

Rocroi – Ramparts and Tunnels

Took most of the afternoon to explore both the outer and inner parts of the town – just truly amazing and really worth visiting.

Friday 20th October

Rain and wind and a very cold morning greeted us – such a surprise given the five days of picture perfect weather we had had.

Passed through Saint Quentin looking for our camp for the night but entrance to the campsite from the bridge was blocked by roadworks and couldn’t find a way around it so stopped for lunch and decided to move on.  This large town had no street appeal at all so we were not unhappy to move on.

Back into the countryside now and headed for our first French Passion stay.

Camp for tonight:  Les Canards de la Germaine, Sancourt

Not quite a farm stay as it was located just a couple of kms outside of the town.  Only has spots for around 5 motorhomes.  The entry has a fenced farm yard including a herd of goats, turkeys, chickens and chicks, a pheasant and numerous other farm animals.  As the name suggests, they also have a duck farm adjacent and stock lots of duck products which are sold in the shop opposite the camp spot.  Very busy during the day with locals coming and going to purchase these goods.  They are also happy to provide fresh water if you need it (we didn’t).

Krys feeding the goats at Sancourt

There is no cost for camping but they are very happy for you to visit the shop and hopefully buy some produce.  We did of course buy fresh farm eggs and some super duck pate which we will no doubt enjoy soon with some fresh baguettes.  They also had apples, cheeses and smoked duck etc.  They didn’t speak any English so could not understand what the other produce was.

Fed the goats which were no more than a metre away from Ziggy before retiring to a very peaceful and quiet night with only the noise of farm animals in the background.

Saturday 21st October – The Somme – Lest We Forget

Roosters woke us up bright and early so we were keen to get going asap.

Today was going to be a long day as we wanted to see the memorials and cemeteries and pay our respects to the Aussie fallen soldiers in the many WW1 battle grounds in this area – the Somme, which is both a river and an area.

We spent a couple of very sad, moving and depressing days driving around the farmlands and fields of the Somme and in particular the areas of Villers Brettoneux, Amiens and Pozieres.

Just before leaving Australia , our son-in law Glen lent us an excellent book written by the Australian author Peter FitzSimons titled Villers Brettoneux and whilst in Germany our friends Michael and Pam lent us a book written by the Australian author Mat McLachlan titled Walking with the ANZACS.

Both these books gave us some background information on where to go and what to expect but the extent of the slaughter doesn’t really hit home until you drive along the quiet little village roads and come across war cemetery after war cemetery with thousands and thousands of either little white crosses and or headstones marking the graves of known dead and unknown dead.

Entrance to the Australian Memorial at Villers Brettoneux

In the area near Pozieres there are cemeteries every couple of hundred metres – some are communal in that they have graves for Australian, New Zealand, British, Canadian and South African soldiers whereas there are a few dedicated to individual countries.

The Villers Brettoneux Cemetery suffered from gunfire in WW2 as well

The Australian cemeteries are maintained by the War Graves Commission and they are kept in first class order – beautiful green lawns, lovely gardens, headstones well marked and easy to read and not an inch out of position.

The Villers Brettoneux Cemetery is beautifully kept

Each cemetery has a register and a Visitor book.

More than 330,000 Australians served in World War 1 – 61,000 were killed – 46,000 on the Western Front – the dead lie in 523 cemeteries across France and Belgium.

The size of the Cemetery and the number of graves is staggering

Mat McLachlan, the author of Walking with the ANZACS has a tour company – “Battlefield Tours” which organises tours through the battlefield sites – we saw some of his mini vans running around whilst we were there.

The first big Battle of the Somme commenced on July 1, 1916 when the British attacked the Germans across a 30 kilometre front – the British lost 60,000 men either killed or wounded on the first morning alone.

The Australian AIF First Division were introduced to this area at Pozieres on the 23rd July – this battle was the most costly battle of WW1 for Australia losing more than 23, 000 killed or wounded over a 6 week period – a lot for a young country with a small population.

Krys looking at the main Australian Memorial at Pozieres

More than one million soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded between July 1 and November 1916.

The Australian Cemetery – The Windmill Site near Pozieres – the white crosses are laid out to represent the AIF badge
Aussie Digger Restaurant in the main street of Pozieres

We also visited Thiepval Memorial which is Britain’s main memorial to its missing soldiers in France – it is a very high red brick monument and it bears the names of 73,000 British and South African soldiers who died in the Somme and have no known grave, including 7 VC winners – 55 Aussies who were killed while serving with British Forces are commemorated along with 10 Diggers who are buried there.

The massive Thiepval Memorial near Monquet Farm

We visited most of the sites on a Saturday which was freezing cold, with a strong wind and light rain – sadly there were only half a dozen people at the Aussie sites but at Thiepval there would have been around 10 coaches each holding around 60 people.

We hope to be able to visit some Belgium sites late in 2018

 Camp for tonight:  Aire de Municipale, Bapaume

Strangely, there were very few camp spots available in this area and as it was getting late took the first available camp spot available.

Only four designated spots one street back from Main Street right next to a large mixed parking place with a skate board park at the end of it.  Had reservations about staying here, but it was still drizzling so thought the little skateboard demons might not play tonight.  The Police also patrolled the area so felt quite safe particularly with the other motorhomes here.

Took a walk around town looking for a place to eat.  Boring town to say the least and not a thing open on a Saturday night except for a kebab shop.  Didn’t look good so opted to have dinner in La Ziggy – nothing flash but good enough to get us through to the next day without starving.

The only item we found of interest was the plaque below which was dedicated to about 26 Australian soldiers who were killed by a German booby trap mine which had been hidden in the Bapaume Town Hall – the rest of Bapaume had been either destroyed or set on fire.

Bepaume Town Hall Plaque honouring the Australians