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12th July 2015
This was a particularly special trip to France for my family and I. My great-great-great-grandfather was killed in the battle of Arras during the first world war in 1917. So we surprised my grandmother with a trip to France to see where her Grandad had fought and also his name on a memorial. If you live in the UK, Arras and Vimy are easy to reach from the Euro Tunnel. If you are going for a "short stay", i.e. a trip to France for less than 5 days, it will cost £55 per car for a return ticket on the Euro Tunnel! Which is amazing considering that you can generally fit up to 5 people in a car - £11 return ticket each! Our first stop was the Canadian National Vimy Memorial - a great tall two pillar tower built in honour of the Canadians that fought for their country. It is a really beautiful memorial and it's SO well maintained. The site is truly picturesque. I recommend climbing the stairs of the memorial and walking to the other side, there's a viewing platform where you can see for miles (the memorial is on the top of a hill). Also located at the memorial are trenches that you can explore (although some parts are still protected from public access as there are undetonated war explosives... eeek!). Guided tours of the underground tunnels are available (you aren't allowed down there unassisted), however we weren't aware that you had to book in advance and our group was too large. Apparently, this is really interesting however! Next, we drove to the Faubourg D'Amiens Cemetery in Arras. When I tell people that we spent a lot of time in a cemetery, people usually wrinkle their nose and ask "why on earth would you want to do that?" and the simple answer is that the French maintain these cemeteries so well that they are really peaceful, beautiful and interesting to explore. The walls of the Cemetery have names of 35,000 service men from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between 1916 and 1918. That's right... thirty-five thousand people in two years. My great-great-great Grandfather was one of these names and it was an honour to see him be commemorated among all of the other brave names. If you do your research beforehand, you can find out exactly what area of the memorial a certain name is - saves you trawling the walls through all 35,000 names! We spent the night in Arras town centre for dinner. The town centre looked really lovely and a I wish that we had more time to explore, however we were only in France for 2 days! The next day we headed to The Wellington Quarry which was really amazing! The adventure starts with a short documentary outlining the Battle of Arras and the conditions that the soldiers faced (a few tears were shed in my family!). You are then taken 20 metres below ground to explore the underground quarry and tunnels. It's a guided tour and I would recommend it to anyone. Nothing gives you a better idea of what the war was like for soldiers than exploring where they spent their time. This was a really special trip for me and one I would definitely recommend to others that have ancestors in a similar situation.