15. Apr, 2016


SUNDAY 14-6-15

The night was very peaceful apart from one single solitary fly that kept buzzing round. After absolutely ages I caught it - it had landed on my forehead and so I slapped it, job done but it stung a bit.

As we have a full tank of water and are parked next to the tap and dumping point we can have a shower every morning that we're here. Once scrubbed and fed we made our way down through the town to the Wellington Quarry. This is where my relative would have been billeted prior to the Battle of Arras, the spring offensive of 1917. Basically Arras was right on the Front Line and so to surprise the Germans, New Zealand tunnellers, mainly Maori miners, assisted by Yorkshire coalminers, dug a tunnel from Arras town centre out to an underground quarry site, probably about ¾ mile away, then they joined all the existing mining tunnels together and hey presto - underground accommodation for up to 24,000 troops. They were fed in to the quarry up to eight days before the battle. On Easter Monday, 9th April 1917, with sleet falling, they charged out of the quarry to attack an unsuspecting German enemy. This was to be a diversionary attack to draw reserve German troops towards Arras allowing the French to mount the main attack much further south. Well the French being the French, beggared up their advance, and after a few very successful days, our lot took one days breather, which allowed all those reserve German troops to turn up unchallenged, who then went on to give us a bit of a spanking. 'Lions lead by donkeys' wasn't it?

On arrival at the quarry reception desk we were met by a very jolly manager and his staff. He asked where we were from and then he proudly announced that he was first away in the 'Tour de France' when it started off from Cambridge. Though when he showed us his photographs he wasn't in Lycra, more like Sillywear, on an electric scooter which was brightly decorated. It seems that he was there to promote Arras as a tourist destination. Well in all honesty, if there hadn't been The Great War then nobody would have any need to visit this area of France at all, or much of Belgium either come to think of it. So maybe, just maybe, The Great War was orchestrated by the French and Belgian Tourist Authorities; I mean they've never looked back since have they?

The manager was also very helpful in that he took what details I had of the relative and whilst we were having a guided tour around the tunnels, did a bit of research and was able to pinpoint the most likely place that he lost his life, which is in the area of two villages about 5 miles out of town. One of them is called Wancour, I kid you not. I need to find out how that's pronounced before we send it to the Australian next of kin.

I tried it on for a bit of discount on the tickets as it did say 'concessions', though The Chef thought that applied to children and students. I loved the managers reply, he said "No - tickets for old people cost more, because you don't move as fast, and it therefore takes longer to get round, plus you keep forgetting what we tell you and so we have to keep repeating it" - love the man, I thought it was hilarious.

As a matter of interest, because English folk, especially in Yorkshire, embraced last year's UK sections of the Tour de France so enthusiastically, it will be announced that half of the 2018 Tour de France will be staged in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales to commemorate the end of The Great War - You heard it here first! Get down the bookies and put a couple of quid on it, as well as George Michael in drag to win next year's Eurovision Song Contest, and if you want a real outsider for some kind of three-way bet, then it's Yorick for his performance in 'Hamlet' winning 'Best Actor' at the Academy Awards.

I don't know what the pictures or video bits will come out like as the video camera was struggling much of the time to focus in the low light, still at least we tried, and when I pluck up the courage to download The Chef's photographs tomorrow I'm confident that there won't be any blurred trees or crash barriers in there.

Because the manager of the Wellington Quarry charmed us in to buying a two-attraction ticket we spent the late afternoon back down town at the Exhibition of Archaeology of the Great War. Quite interesting but not really worth the additional expense and effort of going there.

Walking through the town squares making our way back 'home' for lunch, every man and his dog was eating and drinking in the pavement cafes and restaurants, and what were most of them eating? Chips, chips with everything, I kid you not. Having passed an unpretentious fast food joint we saw what others were eating and the next thing I was sitting down to a char grilled chicken and salad thing in a long stick with chips and The Chef had a mini burger in a bap and chips. We walked away from there feeling completely stuffed and wishing we hadn't succumbed to the temptation. Still at least we can honestly say we ate what the French ate today.

Tonight we've been joined on the Aire by one or two self important 'Hyacinth Bucket's and their husbands. Who, on seeing that the aire is clearly full, obviously feel that there really should be space for important people like them, and so parked one behind the other near the exit, making it difficult for those needing to dump waste water and exit the aire in the morning. We're staying another night as we're going to visit the British Cemetery tomorrow, so it won't affect us otherwise there may have been a Victor Meldrew moment this evening.

As we're still so stuffed from lunchtime I'm just having some crusty French bread and a glass of wine, I couldn't face another meal.