Day 78: Corbie to Arras - Grampies Tour de France - CycleBlaze

June 12, 2018

Day 78: Corbie to Arras

Usually the morning after, when we emerge from our hotel room hibernation and look at the town we arrived in the previous evening, we appreciate our surroundings even more. Usually we have chosen a spot in the old town, and these look good in the morning.

This time, though, we were less than impressed. First off, the little hotel opposite the cathedral turned out to have the smallest conceivable rooms. Next, the 8 euro each breakfast was the rock bottom minimum, just basically bread, jam, and orange juice. Not happy.

And the cathedral - would it be unkind to point out that the supposed to be over the top carving on the front - wasn't. And the place was not even open - you needed to make an appointment. An oh, the bakery next door - presumably the totally lame baguette offered at breakfast came from there. We gave it a miss.

The less than impressive cathedral, Corbie
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Our hotel - where it says Restaurant
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Here we go. This track is very well signed.
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This did not, however, set any kind of sour tone for the day. That's because it was a day filled with discovery and learning, and emotion.

The learning begin with this notion of the World War I "Battle of the Somme". We started out not 100% sure where the Somme was, though Dodie quickly learned about it while doing routing at home. 

The river Somme runs very roughly east/west in the north of France. We started at the ocean (Channel) end with St. Valery. Then it goes Abbeville, Amiens, Corbie, Peronne, and south to Ham. On the other hand, the battle lines (the famous trench warfare lines) extend loosely south/north, beginning at Amiens and running north to Arras, Vimy, and beyond to Ypres, Belgium. The battle lines moved slowly over the course of the war. We are following the line roughly as it existed 1914-1916, visiting Albert, Arras, and Vimy, and places between.

One of our first stops was the cemetery in Ribemont, between Corbie and Albert. It's a small place, but a plaque actually had one of the clearer, simplified maps of the towns we are talking about, and the battle lines. I hope it it legible. You may need to use your browser to enlarge the display a bit:

Amiens, Albert, Arras and the battle lines
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This is the 100th anniversary of the end of the war, so there is a lot of memorial activity going on. One obvious indication is a flag design we have not seen before - an amalgam of the national flags.

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The cemetery at Ribemont was a British one. It is one of many we will pass, from all sides. Obviously we won't make photos of them all, but here is this one:

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The Germans pushed through Albert in 1914, and it was in the thick of the back and forthing after that. When we rolled into the centre of town, we found new memorials, in the form of statues of soldiers of various countries in strategic locations, and variants of that new composite flag flying in many places.  

Statues by the church in Albert
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The church of Albert (Notre Dame de Brebiere) has a countdown (or up) clock, ticking off days of war. It will stop on November 11, at 1562.
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Albert had had a most magnificent basilica, that was destroyed in the fighting. But it was rebuilt according to the original plans, and today it is magnificent again. Though not large, it rivals the one we saw some years ago in Briare  for beauty created with mosaics. It is unique and really something.

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Just beside the church, Albert has the Somme Trench Museum. This is in a tunnel that runs under the town,one of seven that date back to the 13th century. This one was renovated in 1938 to be a bomb shelter. As of 1992 it has been converted to a museum. The main things we noticed were firstly the huge amount of physical relics that are housed here. Of course,since Albert was in the thick of it, this would obviously be the place where these things can be found. Next, the material was brilliantly arranged, not only into display cases but in dioramas depicting various aspects of life at the front and in the trenches. The final really good aspect was a strong effort to bring alive the personal tragedies of individuals who were caught up in the conflict. Statistics about numbers killed reduce the real people and their stories to just technical details. By naming and describing the actual people, the significance and reality of it all are brought home.

One way in which this last idea was implemented was to give each visitor a card at the entrance describing an individual soldier. At the end you can find out what happened to that person.

There are huge amounts of just general debris from the War. This figures, given how much effort the countries put into it. More than this, construction still turns up bodies and live ammunition.
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The museum is located in tunnels, where noise is amplified. These British school kids were so chattery that we could not make out the sound track of the film showing at one end, at all. We came away and asked them and their teachers for silence, three times, but to no avail. The kids were also poorly prepared for their visit, so we could hear comments like "Hey, look at this cool grenade!"
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A bayonet is a vicious thing.
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We found these really scary. A euro and a half buys you a bag of real shrapnel, a perverted souvenir. But clearly it is very plentiful.
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Maurice Galle, from the card we were given, did not make it.
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The stories of selected individuals.
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The next bit has special significance for us, just because of a song. It's called Letter to Marie, by Doug McArthur. Doug will not be known to any outside of a small circle in Canada, but he performed with Garnet Rogers, if that helps. I will try to post the song,but it may take more software than I have here right now. The lyrics describe an Irish soldier, injured, dying, and caught on the barbed wire, composing a letter to his girl back home - a letter that will never be written or delivered. The song has the line "I'm hanging on the wire, in a place called Thiepval, in the valley of the  Somme, on the other side of hell." 

When we first heard this song, many years ago,  only the vaguest idea of where the Somme might be. And "Thiepval"? I could not really make out the word in the song, and just accepted it as some impossibly remote place, that would never have anything to do with me. Now, at Albert, we were 8 km on our route, from Thiepval!

Please listen to the song here:



I am not sure what I expected at Thiepval, though my only images of it were those conjured by the song, and those are from 1916. What we found was tour buses and a museum, as well as a large memorial building. But wait, the museum was fabulous. We did not even go into the paying part of it. All around was information, about the creation of the memorial, and about the war itself. The war was laid out in a series of tremendously well done large panels containing more information that we could probably absorb in a week, about the causes and progress of the war, the battle of the Somme, and Thiepval.

One fact jumped out from the rest - July 1, 1916 was the date of a major British offensive here. It was a disaster, and is known as the bloodiest day in the whole history of the British army.  The letter in the Doug McArthur song is dated "the first day of July, 1916" a date that the song asks us to remember. You can see the panel on this in the second photo below.

The museum at Thiepval
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Really well done panels
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"The first day of July, 1916"
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One of the things the museum tries to explain is the cause of the war.  This is a topic that has been bothering me since we arrived in this area. Why would the Germans suddenly smash through Belgium and try to walk through France? Even with some sort of pretext, what was the real reason?

My answer goes something like this. Given the basic laws of nature, people have to work to survive.  The basic object of life is to minimize discomfort, maximize pleasure, and live at least long enough to reproduce. If in the course of this,for example, you notice that it is raining on your head, then you build a house and get a roof on it. But of course it's not as simple as that.  Another way to keep the rain off is to get hold of another man's house, or get another man to build you a house, or get the housing materials cheaper, somehow.  To do it this way you might need to kill or coerce the other man. Maybe for that you need a gun, or an army. But it could be worth it to go that route rather than just to get your own materials and build your house. 

These basic imperatives get spun out in a myriad of ways, as humans organize themselves to cope with survival. They lead individuals and groups to come into conflict, and you get wars of economics, or politics,or religion, and of race. Lots of 'isms get mixed in to this - like capitalism, communism, imperialism, racism, fascism, nationalism, etc.

In the case of WWI, I would choose "imperialism",  and say that at heart the Germans wanted the French worse off so they could be better off. In my world view, you should abandon that kind of behaviour, preferably in kindergarden.

The other thing that bothered me was why millions of people should have volunteered for this insanity. The answer is in national pride - or nationalism. This can be a good thing, when it gets people to work together for the common benefit. But when it pits one group against another - trouble. To get a sense of the psychology of it, look at this poster, found in the Albert museum:

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Leaving Thiepval behind, we continued on the Veloroute de la Memoire toward Arras. The route kept us on quiet roads, and even put us on a brief rail trail. The rail trail and the overall route ended not at Arras but a Dainville, about 6 km short. 

Checking the GPS and our maps, we selected some tiny looking roads that would take us into town. The thing about a "tiny" road is that it is narrow. and French drivers do not do narrow well. They pass in the face of oncoming traffic an repeatedly risk head on collisions. Very stressful for us watching it, and assuming that the "shrapnel" would then come flying back at us.

Obviously we did make it, and began to make our way through the city. Looking at some of the buildings I began to feel they looked Belgian. What a surprise, though, when we came to our hotel in one of the central squares. The entire large square was lined with "Flemish" style buildings. and our hotel, "Hotel des 3 Luppars" was not only in one of these, but actually in the oldest building in the city!

The Flemish buildings
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The square
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Our hotel
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We found that there is a market in the next square tomorrow. And we want to go the Canadian memorial at Vimy. We also want (need) to move on. It will make a full day!

Today's ride: 81 km (50 miles)
Total: 5,194 km (3,225 miles)

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Tricia GrahamThat is a better hotel ! The breakfast was magnificent
Tricia
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1 year ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Tricia GrahamSeriously? You stayed here also?
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1 year ago
Tricia GrahamTo Steve Miller/GrampiesGreat minds think alike. I am guessing where you will stay tonight
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1 year ago
Michel FleuranceThis song created in 1914 :

Avec l'ami Bidasse
On ne se quitte jamais,
Attendu qu'on est
Tous deux natifs d'Arras-se,
Chef-lieu du Pas de Calais


http://www.dutempsdescerisesauxfeuillesmortes.net/paroles/avec_bidasse.htm
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1 year ago