Tuesday April 22
At the Hotel Mercure, we began our morning with breakfast at the hotel. It was a very good choice because, as seniors, the breakfast is free! We ate well, then walked (15minutes) from the hotel to The Wellington Quarry - a memorial of the WWI battle of Arras.
The Wellington Quarry was in effect an underground town. Arras was situated on the front line and the quarries below the town were used to house over 2,400 British soldiers prior to the battle of Arras in April 1917. The quarries underneath the town were linked by a series of tunnels that were dug primarily by soldiers from New Zealand; hence the name Wellington (capital of NZ). The tour took us through a series of tunnels while an audio guide described the conditions of the soldiers living underground. A tour guide accompanying us provided additional commentary and led the way through the maze of tunnels. It is a tour that is well worth it's price of admission.
We walked back to the hotel, picked up our coats and umbrella (just in case) and drove out for an afternoon of exploring WWI cemeteries and monuments nearby. We began at Villers Station Cemetery in the village of Villers-aux-Bois (1,208 commonwealth soldiers, of which 962 were Canadians).
Our second site visited was the Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery just outside the village of Souchez, at which over 7,600 are buried, of which 741 were Canadians. It is amazing but sad to see the rows and rows of headstones each inscribed with the name of the fallen soldier, or in many cases just "An Unknown Soldier of the Great War". This is the cemetery from which an unknown soldier now resting at the National Cenotaph in Ottawa was relocated in the year 2000.
Our next visit was to a tiny cemetery up a narrow farm track, not often visited, also near Souchez. The Canadian Givenchy-en-Gohelle cemetery contains the graves of only 144 Canadian soldiers and 10 British, all of whom fell in the fighting at Vimy Ridge.
Our last stop late in the afternoon was at the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge. It is awe inspiring in its enormity and beauty. The monument site was almost deserted when we arrived, and with the afternoon sun shining brightly on the back (west facade) of the monument, it was a moving sight! This monument was built to honour the 60,000 Canadians who gave their lives in the Great War. The names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France, whose bodies were never found, are inscribed on the base of the memorial.
We returned to the hotel late in the day. Although we had intended to go into the centre of Arras for dinner, it poured rain as we were getting ready to go, so we decided to eat in the hotel dining room.