|Today we headed of on our own to Arras which is about 50 minutes out of Paris by train, where we met up with an Australian guy running tours of the Western Front. He met us at the train station right on time and introduced us to our travelling companions, three other people all from Melbourne.
This day turned out to be everything we had hope for. It wasn't cheap but worth every cent. Phil, our guide was very passionate about everything to do with the Australian troops involved in this area during WW1 and in keeping thier memories alive. We visited Windmill Hill where Australia lost so many in such a short time but there is no offical government memorial there. The land was bought off the famers by a guy who didn't want to see the site turned into farming and so he mortaged his house to buy it and is trying to get an offical memorial built there. Max left an Australian flag on the top of the hill, which meant a lot to him. Opposite Windmill Hill there was another monument to the tanks used durjng the war and the different sorts there were. We also saw piles of live ammunition which is still being dug up by farmers and they leave it in certain places and the bomb sqad come through every so often, pick them up and dispose of them. We were told they loose on an average 5 people a year who come across the unexploded shells while farming which can still ignite if they are miss handled.
Phil told us there are over 2500 cemeteries on the Western Front and graves are still being added. Only a few weeks ago 5 German soldiers remains were discovered in an archeological dig. They are now extending the search area for more.
We then visited the main Canadian memorial which Is an area of land again being owned by private people to keep it as a memorial.
It was quite a long walk through the property but the trenches are still there as they were during the war.
We had lunch in a little cafe which was nice and then it was off to see Lachnagar Crater which is the only remaining crater out of 5 that were in the area. The others have all been filled in and used for farming but a guy from England mortaged his house and bought this land to keep it from being filled in too. A few months ago after a lot of rain there was a mud slice down into the crater and a skeleton was discovered and because he still had his razor on him which had his name on it, he was identified and has now been buried in a local cemetery.
Visting Villiers Bretonneux was great as it was the one place I wanted to see. You see it on TV on Anzac Day but being there is entirely different, very emotional for some reason. Max climbed the 141 stairs to the top but I stayed on the ground.
We then went on to the local school which was rebuilt from funds raised by school children in Victoria. The sign across the school playground reads " Do not forget the Australians". There was a small museum there which was good and still open at it was getting late.
Our last stop for the day was the Memorial at La Hamel which is built on the top of a hill with views right across the country which was once battlefields and where there are still soldiers whose remains have not been recoved. It was hard to believe such beautiful country side could have once been such a blood bath.
It took a while to get back to Aras but when we arrived it was decided to have dinner in the square as our train wasn't leaving for Paris for another 90 minutes. We drove to Phil's place where he left the car and we walked only about 200 metres into the main town square which was lovely. Phil took us to his favourite wine bar where we all had a drink and a platter of local produce, meat, cheese, pate, bread etc. Phil left us to chat with our fellow travellers which was a nice way to finish off the day. We had to leave to catch our train so we said good bye and head to the station and arrived back in Paris just after 9pm. Avery long and emotional day but great all the same.