Remembrance – Arras, France

We were hoping today to visit the underground caves in Arras, but unfortunately Carrière Wellington a large network built from a quarry by New Zealand tunnellers is closed for refurbishment. The other boves caves under the Hôtel de Ville in the middle of town under the Place de Héros which was used as a British command post and hospital in WW1 also had to be pre-booked now due to COVID regulations and was fully booked today. So I guess we will need to return to Arras again another time.

On a more positive note, we did time it right for the big market held in the 2 squares in the town centre. It was very popular with local buyers and had a fabulous selection of fruit, vegetables, seafood, meats, cheeses, clothes, shoes and all sorts of other items. It is always interesting to shop in another country and we had an enjoyable time waking between the many stalls.

Next it was time to see the commonwealth cemetery for the local battles of Arras and the Western front. It was a short walk out of town in a beautifully maintained oasis of tranquility. Along the walls were also the names of over 35,000 who were lost with no known grave. I found the section relating to the Royal Fusiliers which my great grandfather served with. Although the names seemed to be from all across England, Scotland and the Commonwealth. It is impossible to imagine the terror, hardship and horror that these men encountered. It was certainly a fitting memorial to them, beautifully maintained. This was only one of 1000 cemeteries in France. You just cannot grasp the scale of the massacre, hard to believe only 20 years later the world was at war again. We can only hope that was the last.

Finally we called in at the vast Citadel d’Arras, built by Vauban in the seventeenth century as part of the nationwide defences being constructed in that era. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008. It is a large site, subsequently used as barracks for many years, but known as the La Belle inutil (the beautiful useless one) as it has never been used in anger. Unfortunately as part of its modern usage to hold festivals and some businesses, it has some fairly unsympathetic modern buildings which was disappointing.

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