Day 1 – To Amiens
Friday 7th October was an overcast and cool day as we threaded our way out through the northern suburbs of Paris and up the D316. No reason to take that road, it just seemed likely to be the least travelled, and it was until we rounded a corner and came across this magnificent structure – the Château de Chantilly.
Home of the Chantilly Racecourse.
This was as good a place as any for morning tea and des pâtisseries in this town were just the best.
Owing to the windchill it wasn’t the most pleasant of rides as we continued north through Clermont towards the battlefields of The Somme.
We stopped to warm up in Bray-sur-Somme which the Australians captured as part of the general advance from 8 August 1918.
Then over the ridge to Etinehem which was captured by the 13th Brigade of the 4th Division.
Next was Le Hamel which was a significant memorial with excellent information.
The battle of Hamel was a brilliantly successful advance made by the Australian Corps under the command of Lieutenant General John Monash. You can read about it here http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/le-hamel/what-happened-here.php
Monash was a brilliant engineer and strategist from Melbourne and is credited with the design and construction of a number of the Melbourne underground rail works as well as the bridge that crosses the Yarra River on St Kilda Road among many other well known landmarks around Melbourne. Monash University is named after him. I’ve read his biography and it’s a great read, and he’s probably the least known hero of Australian history.
The German Ace The Red Baron was also shot down over this area.
We continued on to Villers-Bretonneux and the huge Australian cemetery on a hill overlooking the town which at the second battle of Villers-Bretonneux the Australians recaptured. There is a lot of work going on here to improve the sight for visitors.
And so onto Amiens for the night. A relatively new city because it had been bombed extensively in both World Wars.
190 cold and bleak kilometers for a sobering and thought provoking day.
Day 2 – To Ypres
Saturday 8th October was another overcast and cool day as we followed what seemed like a parade of memorials and cemeteries northwards along a section of magnificent country that between 1914 and 1918 claimed more lives than any other theatre of war in history.
Without trying to take away from any other serving nation it is very obvious that the people of this region have a very soft spot for the Australian forces that served and died in these parts, more so than any other nation as there are Australian flags flying from what appears to be every official and many private buildings along the road and we weren’t on any specific road. As we got closer to Ypres the flag of New Zealand joined them.
There are countless War Cemeteries along the route we took, and many Australian memorials. It is extremely humbling to see the sacrifice of blood made by those who gained the least, all in the name of imperial arrogance, greed and power on both sides.
In July & August 1916 the 1st Anzac Corps captured Pozières village and the heights beyond known as The Windmill.
On and on past many headstones wherever one looks to the town of Fromelles where The Australian 5th Division suffered a disastrous defeat in the first major Australian operation on the Western Front in July 1916 and where just recently 250 bodies were found and have been laid to rest.
Further up the road is Messines. The Battle of Messines took place between 7-14 June 1917 and both New Zealand and Australian troops played a significant part with New Zealand capturing the village itself. It is along this line and just prior to this battle that 19 huge mine explosions were detonated. It is close to here that the famous Christmas Day truce of 1914 took place and both sides played soccer. This was initiated by the Germans much to the horror of the British High Command.
We stayed the night right in the middle of the lovely walled town of Ypres that had been virtually obliterated during WW1.
This the sight of the famous Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing dedicated to some 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown. Every evening at 8pm there is a very moving ceremony with the Last Post being played and wreaths being laid. We arrived at 7.30pm and the crowd was already 6 deep so by 8pm there were 100s and 100s of people there, all paying their respects as we were.
Another cold days ride of 170 km.
Day 3 – To Brugge
Sunday 9th of October and the sun threatened to shine as we left Ypres through Menin Gate
and proceeded up the road to Hellfire Corner. Today merely another roundabout but during WW1 a place where Allied troops ‘ran the gauntlet’ of German artillery as they marched to the front line just up ahead.
We then visited a couple of the mine craters mentioned previously. These were a line of mines along 25 km pushed in under the German hilltop vantage defences from anything up to 500 meters out and to a depth of up to 60 meters then packed with up to 45,000kgs of explosives each. They made huge holes in the ground as all 19 were detonated at 3:10 a.m. on 7 June 1917, and a total of 450,000 kg of explosives went off under the German positions killing 10,000 German soldiers between Ypres and Ploegsteert. Hell on earth!
We visited The Pool of Peace, Hill 60 and The Caterpillar.
On into Passchendaele and the memorial to New Zealand’s heaviest losses of the war as they fought their way across the ground in front of this memorial.
One could spend weeks just visiting cemeteries and memorials along this 300 km stretch of WW1 horror if one had the time and inclination.
From here it was a nice run through the Belgium countryside to the lovely city of Brugge, or Bruges, or however you want to spell it. An easy 90 klms for the day.
So now there’s only 1 day’s ride left.