Wales 2 Blue Knights and the First World War Battlefields, 2009
With spring in the air, five of us set off towards Newhaven and the Dieppe Ferry. The weather started nicely warm and dry, but we met heavy rainstorms on our approach to Newhaven. The crossing was smooth as silk, but as we got into Dieppe at around 02.30am, all we could see was mist thicker than an Irish brogue! We even missed our intended route due to lack of visibility, but we were still heading in the right direction for our first stop, Amiens, 100 miles away, where we arrived - averaging 30mph - at 06.30. There’s always a cafe open at this time, and boy, was it welcome!
Amiens, and five riders soaked to the skin...almost. Note the back of Amiens Cathedral top right. It’s the largest Gothic Cathedral in France and hold many memorials to British and Commonwealth Troops that served here during the 1914-18 period. For now though, all we wanted was a hearty breakfast waiting for us in Auchonvillers - or as the British troops called it “Ocean Villas!”
Auchonvillers is only about 30 miles further on, but no sooner had we got on our bikes than we ran into the most severe thunderstorm I’d ever witnessed. Now, we were definitely soaked through, however, our host, Avril, had the breakfasts ready for us, and with the bikes safely under cover and our wet clothes hanging up to dry, we weren’t long in feeling once more human.
Our first port of call was Newfoundland Park, scene of just one disaster on the first day of the great Somme battles. This was followed by a visit to the poignant Thiepval Memorial and the 300-foot-wide Lochnager Mine in la Boisselle. Being Welshmen (or half Welsh for me), we had to visit Mametz Wood, scene of the 38th Welsh Division’s historic victory. By this time, the weather had improved greatly, and it was getting distinctly warmer.
Unfortunately, we were reminded of home when we were hit with two more sudden squalls that caught us off guard, as the photo shows. This cafe-cum-museum was an officers’ billet during the war, and has been run by the same family ever since. It’s name is “le Tommy!” Can’t think why!
Throughout Northern France & Flanders, newly-discovered trenches are being opened to public all the time. Above, we have followed a communication trench running from the cellar of our B&B. But all too soon we had to leave the Somme and head for Vimy. The magnificent memorial (above) is dedicated to the Canadians who took this ridge in 1917. Curiously, Hitler had ensured its protection using SS Guards during their invasion in 1940.
The area around the town of Ypres was once the infamous “Salient” which endured daily enemy bombardments for three and a half years. Above, here we are at Hill 62. Just a few miles away, we take a breather at another Canadian memorial in Passchendaele. As you can see from both photos, the weather had decided to play another trick, and from here on, we were sweltering in temperatures well into the 80’s!
Before heading south again, we had to pay our respects at the Menin Gate, and here, our Doug laid a wreath for four members of his family who rest in the fields beyond. A very poignant moment for us all; indeed, even the gathered visitors gave him a huge round of applause - he was in his 80’s after all!
It was a long 150-mile ride back to Dieppe, and more for a break than anything else, we stopped briefly in Agincourt, Henry the Fifth’s famous battlefield. Some 30 miles from Dieppe, tiredness became a worry, so we stopped at a lay-by for some much-needed rest. After an hour waiting for Doug to wake up, we finally made it to Dieppe with half-an-hour to wait for the ferry. The photo below shows Doug having his catnap, before our gallant band board the shuttle.