Off To The Battlefields

It seems like days ago since we left Royds Hall at 10pm but it was only yesterday. We had a smooth journey down to Dover and then sailed to Dunkirk accompanied by leprechauns, gangsters, the main characters from Back To The Future and a chain gang – all part of a charity rally down to Switzerland.

Once on the continent, we headed to our first place, the French national military cemetery at Notre Dame De Lorette. It is an enormous site with a church and a lighthouse in the centre. The lighthouse is situated above the resting place of 22 thousand soldiers who could not be identified. A guide called Jean Paul told us about the cemetery and also showed us where both Muslim and Jewish soldiers were buried. We were beginning to see the scale of loss that occurred during the First World War.

Next we travelled close by to the German cemetery at Neuville St. Vaste which was a huge contrast with the French white grave markers we had previously seen. Here simple dark crosses marked the site of the dead, where Christian and Jewish soldiers lie next to each other – so very different from what was to come in the Second World War.

Our last visit of the day was to Vimy Ridge, the scene of an intense battle between Canadian soldiers and German forces. We had the chance to explore a reconstructed part of the trench systems and imagine what it must have been like to fight in such a situation.

We then went up to the huge memorial to the Canadian soldiers that towers over the countryside of Arras. It was breathtaking, huge expanses of white stone reaching up into the skies, symbolising the sacrifice the soldiers made in the war.

After that it was off to the hotel for a meal and a walk around the town of Lo-Reninge, seeing a windmill and a bat. And now off for some sleep – hopefully!