The Sombre Somme
I’m back from holidays, but I, unfortunately, got sick while we were away! So I thought I’d put in a little item about illness and travelling — everyone’s nightmare!
Health and Travel
Things to do before you go overseas:
- Write down vital information and keep it in your wallet during your trip. That should include your name, address, address’ where you’re staying during your trip, emergency contacts.
- From a health perspective also have any important medical conditions or prescription drugs that you’re taking that health care providers might need to be aware of if treating you.
- Make sure you have your medication for the entire trip and keep it with you on your carry on.
- ALWAYS carry your medication in your hand luggage. We even split it between bags so if one gets lost there is a supply to go on with while you organise more!
- Have Health Insurance for travel and know what you have to do to use it. What are your entitlement in your policy? Can you get flown home if you need it? Or if you had an operation and had to stay put in a country do they cover your accommodation?
- Know where the embassy is in each country you visit so you can always call them for assistance.
Be aware 112: is the EU-wide emergency service number for all emergency services (Fire/ Health/ Police). You will be able to speak to an english speaking person but you must make sure you indicate which service you require and the country, department and other address details clearly.
These doctors are on-call, and they will do a “home” visit for around €50–70 a visit. You will have to pay in cash or by check (in euros) at the time of the visit. To reach them, day or night, call 3624. They will request your “department” number and then address details. Alternately, in smaller villages, ask your hotel / campsite / gite owner or neighbour to call a local doctor. The cost may be slightly higher than a surgery visit, but less than the SOS Médecins.
On Sunday and night time calls, in many towns, doctors and chemists’ remain on duty by rota. Local gendarmeries (police stations) can usually provide the phone number of the duty doctor and chemists (médecin de garde, pharmacie de garde).
Contrary to widespread belief, health care is not free in France and you will be presented with a bill at the end of your treatment, which you’ll be expected to pay before you leave. However, in my experience, the cost is significantly less than in many other countries. Make sure you get copies of all treatment and bills so you can claim from your insurance.
Be prepared and nothing will happen, be unprepared and you may regret it!
So we’re heading north to the Somme area, where the weather is often wet and grey, and the countryside is gently undulating or flat and where almost every turn you make highlights a cemetery of white crosses!
It is a sombre area but also an area of places that are exceptionally worthwhile visiting. It’s a place where the family can go on a history tour, learning about the heroic deeds of normal men and the horrific cost of war!
I went on this trip reluctantly, but would recommend everyone who believes we need to be reminded of what war does and how hard we should make sure our leaders keep the peace! It is in our opinion incredibly important that teenagers get to see the horrors of war.
Leaving Paris, go through Chantilly, mentioned in a previous newsletter and then continue on north to Villers-Bretonneux. The architecture of the area as you head north changes to red/brown brick houses with terracotta roofs; very different from the white stone buildings to be found around most of France.
When you arrive in the village of Villers-Bretonneux, follow the signs into the farmland to the National Australian Memorial Cemetery. You will come upon it suddenly, this massive, immaculately kept, memorial to the dead of Australia, England and other countries. This will be your first inkling of just how mammoth this trip will be for you. The sheer size of the memorial, one of the nearly 2000 cemeteries in the Western front region, alone. The care that goes into these sites is incredible — manicured grass and roses abound, but do not make it any the less sombre a place to visit.
While you’re in this area check out Amiens with its Cathedral de Notre-Dame that has survived many wars since being built in 1220. This cathedral is dramatic inside with windows and 110 oak carved choir stalls!
From Amiens head to the memorial of Bullecourt, a memorial to the 72,195 missing soldiers. Next is the Pozières, also a memorial to the missing — 97 panels are inscribed with the 14,655 names of the missing soldiers.
One of the horrendous facts of the first World War is that 6 million people are missing presumed dead!
The town of Arras is also worth a visit, with its mediaeval tunnels that were re-excavated by the New Zealand Tunnelling Company. The tunnels became a decisive factor in the British forces holding the city in 1917, when, in the days before the Battle of Arras, 24,000 soldier hid in the tunnels to surprise and successfully defeat the attacking Germans. (La Carriere Wellington, Rue Arthur Deletoille, 62000, Arras, France)
On the way to Lille stop at the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery. This cemetery was one of the most poignant for me, and I am crying whilst I write this brief summary. As recently as August 2009 exhumations of 250 British and Australian soldiers occurred in this small cemetery. By 2015, 144 Australian soldiers had finally been identified, using DNA technologies and descendants samples, and their graves properly marked.
This trip was incredibly upsetting for me and I found myself proud of the amazing heroism while horrified at the loss of life. The thing that upset me the most was the number of unknown soldier graves! Imagining the families who never, really found out where their loved ones died.
Now head up to Lille an attractive old town with a strong Flemish accent, three renowned art museums, stylish shopping, some excellent dining options and a cutting-edge, student-driven nightlife scene. Surrounded by battlefields and war sites to visit; Lille is a good place to base yourself. It’s a university town, that has a lovely old square, and great restaurants along the canal that goes through the town.
On the first weekend in September Lille’s entire city centre — 200km of footpaths — is transformed into the Braderie de Lille, billed as the world’s largest flea market. It runs nonstop — yes, all night long — from 2pm on Saturday to 11pm on Sunday, when street sweepers emerge to tackle the mounds of mussel shells and old frites (French fries) left behind by the merrymakers. The extravaganza — with stands selling antiques, local delicacies, handicrafts and more — dates from the Middle Ages, when Lillois servants were permitted to hawk their employers’ old garments for some extra cash. Lille’s tourist office can supply you with a free map of the festivities.
A easy day trip would be to go from Lille to Ypres, Ypres to Dunkirk and back to Lille. Any of these towns you could spend a day. The drive to Ypres in Belgium is a short 45 minutes; here you will find a great town with a wonderful square near the gate to have a cup of tea or eat lunch, on a sunny day.
Just around the corner from the square is the Menin Gate Memorial. The triumphal arch, designed in 1921, is the entry to the barrel-vaulted passage for traffic through the Mausoleum that honours the Missing, who have no known graves. The patient lion on the top is the lion of Britain but also the lion of Flanders. It was chosen to be a memorial as it was the closest gate of the town to the fighting, and so Allied Troops would have marched past it on their way to fight.
The large Hall of Memory contains names on stone panels of 54,395 Commonwealth soldiers who died but whose bodies have never been identified or found.
Every evening at 8pm the last post is played in a simple, but moving tribute to the courage and self-sacrifice of those who fell in defence of their town.
Dunkirk, a 45 minute drive from Ypres, is well known throughout the world as the scene for Operation Dynamo in 1940 where 340,000 troops were evacuated from its beaches, but Dunkirk also combines a wealth of history and museums, fabulous boutique shops, delightful restaurants, a stunning golf course and miles of sweeping sandy beaches!
I hope you have enjoyed this tour of the Somme region. Explore and check out places that interest you; try the ones outside the tourist track. The sad history of this region can overwhelm you but don’t forget to look at the other part of the area that is rich in historical sites and lots of coastline with restaurants that specialise in seafood!
Next week we’re going to travel down the coast to a favourite of mine — Honfleur, to visit some more of the WW2 sites and attractions and check out Brittany.
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