On the 1st of September was our grand depart from the UK. Harry and I are planning to travel for the next year! With my blog I want to try and keep you all updated about our adventures and share our stories with you. For a quick update on where in the world we are and what we’ve been up to: https://www.polarsteps.com/harryandmirjam
Part 1 of our big trip is to drive from London to Athens in our 16 year old Peugeot 106 and our first leg was from London to the Netherlands to spend a few weeks with my family. On our way to the Netherlands we wanted to take the opportunity to visit the Somme region in northern France. On the day of departure we left London very early as we were a bit worried about the stories of the long queues to get on the ferry at Dover. Luckily we had no queues at all and were at the port way too early and were allowed on an earlier ferry. After a smooth sailing across the Channel we drove past ‘The Jungle’ in Calais and saw the enormous camp and the many refugees trying to get across and make their way to the UK. It made the refugee crisis very real and hopefully it will soon be resolved.
The last of England
Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial
After about 1,5 hours driving we enter the Somme region and left and right of the road were all the WWI military cemeteries and memorial sites for the Battle of the Somme in 1916. We decided to drive to the main town in the area first, Albert. Here we picked up an information booklet from the tourist information that had a great map in it with all the WWI sites and the background on each site. From Albert we drove to our B&B that was also a working farm and in the middle of the former WWI battlefields. The view from our window was out on a cemetery and a few 100 meters away from the front line and no-man’s land in the 1916 Somme offensive in which millions of Commonwealth, French and German soldiers died. We were also very near the Beaumont-Hamel memorial site, where soldiers from mainly Newfoundland attacked the Germans on the morning of the 1st of July 1916 which went all wrong and within 30 minutes only one fifth of the Newfoundlanders was still alive. This is also one of the few sites where you can still see some of the trenches and big mortar craters. We were there just before closing time and without the big crowds you get during the day it was very quiet and it made it all even more impressive and sad to imagine what a hell the place must have been.
Caribou statue at Beaumont-Hamel memorial site
Entrance to the Beaumont-Hamel memorial site A preserved trench with mortar craters
Thiepval Memorial to the Missing
The next day was a full day of exploring the region. In the morning we visited the very informative Somme 1916 museum in Albert. The museum is situated in a long tunnel which was used as a shelter during the wars. The tunnel is underneath the church that was completely destroyed during WWI. Towards the end of the morning we drove to the Thiepval memorial site, the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world and commemorates more that 72,000 men who were declared missing in the Somme between July 1915 and March 1918, their names are engraved in the memorial. The average age of the men was only 25…
At midday, we attended a short service that is held every day during the centenary of the Battle of the Somme until the 17th of November 2016. Families from some of the fallen soldiers had travelled to Thiepval especially to attend the service and one man read a poem to remember his granddad, other people laid the poppy wreaths and a group of local school kids lay roses. Behind the memorial site is a big cemetery where French and Commonwealth soldiers are buried side by side. A lot of graves are of unknown soldiers, many have letters and poppy wreaths on their graves with the words: Lest we forget.
Mural in Albert
Thiepval Memorial to the Missing
In the afternoon we drove to the Lochnagar Crater which is about 90 meters wide and 30 meters deep and was created by the explosion of a huge mine placed under the German front line on the 1st of July 1916 at 7:28 at the same time with several other mines just before the big offensive on the Germans started.
The rest of the day we went to see several other memorial sites and cemeteries including one of the very few cemeteries for German soldiers. As so many German soldiers are buried here, one cross has the name of four soldiers.
Mametz Wood Memorial (Welsh)
Fricourt German Cemetery
I would highly recommend visiting the Somme region if you’re looking for a short holiday in Europe. I learnt a lot and it made me appreciate the peace we have in Europe at the moment. Here is a great website if you want to learn more about the Somme battlefields. For us, after a few intense days it was time for something lighter and we drove to Arlon in Belgium where we stayed with a friend of Harry and had a great night. On Sunday the 4th we arrived in Ulft, which would be our home for the next few weeks.