Friday, 16 May 2014

To Arras and so into France

We caught the local train into Lille (with a friendly word from a local that the train split at the border and better be in the correct half, which we determined we were after much obsessive checking). Then a car pickup. We had ordered a VW Polo manual but were given a Toyota Yaris hybrid which was automatic. The boot was miniscule; it would take only one red suitcase and a backpack. I was fuming as it meant most of our luggage was visible and therefore uninsured if we left it in the car such as at sightseeing points between towns.

However, off we went, stopping first at Ypres a town massively damaged by being the front in the first world war. Again, the sheer scale of damage and subsequent rebuilding “as was” was simply amazing. We visited the massive Menin Gate, a huge memorial arch where even today the Last Post is sounded at 8pm and on whose walls are inscribed the names of the allied soldiers whose bodies were never found. There are so many names!

Ypres Menin Gate 3_edited-1
Not a good photo but it gives an idea of the size of Menin Gate
Ypres Menin Gate2_edited-1
Beneath the arch and beside and looking towards walls of names
On the steps lie wreaths sent in memoriam. Many are plastic, stylised poppies. It was with some amazement that I found one from Xavier College in Melbourne commemorating their old students who lost their lives in the war.

Ypres Menin Gate_edited-1
Wreaths on the steps
xavier wreath edited
The Xavier wreath
The town is dominated by the enormous Guild Hall of the Cloth Merchants, now a Town Hall, museum and heavens knows what else. It too was largely destroyed and then rebuilt, as was the nearby cathedral. If any of the stained glass remains it is incorporated into the new windows, but the buildings themselves are testaments to that will to say “You won’t destroy us! We shall be as we were before”

Ypres Cloth merchants hall_edited-1
That huge tower in the Guild Hall was a stump after the war
Ypres cathedral_edited-1
The rebuilt nave and apse of the cathedral

Afterwards we went to the Canadian War Memorial. No graves, but a tall white marble edifice, split in two parts and located on  Vimy ridge. Some of the trenches remain, covered by grass, and it is possible to visit some of the underground areas, though we were too late for that. I think I was most moved by the avenue of maple trees that led to the monument, but some of the statuary was eloquent too.

Canadian memorial_edited-1
The memorial from under the maples
Canadian sorrow_edited-1
A sorrowful figure overlooks Vimy
Canadian detail_edited-1
Detail of a figure on the steps

Then to Arras, to a hotel that may once have been grand but was pretty “faded glories” by now. In unpacking the car we discovered there was a false floor in the boot. Removing that allowed most of our luggage to be stored in the boot. Yay!
Arras itself was also badly damaged and in rebuilding, they decided on a unified rather Flemish facade for houses round the squares. This leads to a very charming effect, perhaps a bit spoiled by filling the centres with parked cars.

Arras town hall_edited-1
The town hall
Arras town square_edited-1
Charming matched facades

Arras square 2_edited-1

Still, we had a nice evening meal and slept well despite the noisy square outside.
Tomorrow: Villers-Bretonneux and on to Jumieges.

No comments:

Post a Comment