Wednesday, 19 June 2013

To the Green Fields Beyond

I have been trying to put together an itinerary for when Linda and I jump off  our Trafalgar Tour in Paris on September 28 and the rest of our trip which lasts until mid October. It's a bit scary because wandering around a place where English is not only not spoken but frowned upon if used, or so legend goes, is a bit daunting. I'm sure we will be fine. As Linda says, it will be an adventure if nothing else. And I am sure that will be the case.

 After  spending four days taking in the sights and sounds of the "City of Light",  we will make our way to the green fields of northern France, namely Amiens, where the flower of Australian youth bivouacked, fought and died in their droves during the Great War.

 I have booked  Bed and Breakfast accommodation at a little village called Courcelles au bois , 27km from Amiens and the trick, after finding the right train to Amiens and picking up a hire car in the city, will be navigating the ancient streets and back lanes and finding our little hamlet. One of the main reasons I chose this particular spot is that the proprietors speak good English and I figure that could come in handy if I get into a tight spot and don't know where I am. A phone call to our hosts would surely see me out of trouble.

 I am also looking into buying a Global Positioning System and trying to enquire online if a hand held contraption bought in Australia can work in Europe and it seems some can and others need to have maps downloaded although there seems to be a "hire" system on some whereby you can hire a map of France for example, for a month and it works out cheaper than downloading information which may cost more than the whole unit to begin with! Ah, the joys of preparing for travel.

 I was initially not going to bother with a swoop through the northern climes of France but my Great Uncle died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station at Grevillers and it was suggested to me that I call in and see his grave as no one from the family has visited it in all these years. I would hate to think young John Robinson is lying cold in his grave near the old western front, lonely and unloved and I think a visit is in order, just to let him know that he has never been forgotten. I know he was much loved and lamented and I can only imagine the grief and sorrow experienced by his parents and brothers and sisters and extended family on hearing of his tragic death, however gallant it may have been. Dying for your country may be a noble theory but it is much more profound for those left behind who have to deal with the anguish involved. It must have been especially hard as he was so far away. Families in those days had very little means of decamping to Europe. I will do it for them.

 A friend of ours, when told we were perusing the line of the old Western Front, asked if we could find out more about the place where her own Great Uncle is buried. I duly looked up Bonnay War Cemetery where he is interred and it is not very far from where our other appointment is. The whole line of road from Amiens to Bapaume is dotted with military cemeteries, many holding hundreds and thousands of Diggers. A timeless and prosaic reminder of the sacrifice of a small country in the defence of France. We shall visit there too.

 The village of Courcelles au bois is close to the city of Albert but also in the vicinity of Theivpal where very heavy fighting took place during the Great War and just a little further on, situated on a t-intersection on the road between Amiens and Albert, is Pozieres.

 8000 Australians died on the ridge at Pozieres, taking and holding the town, in six weeks of fighting, a larger number than had died at Gallipoli in nine months. A kilometre or so further on at Moquet Farm the fields were sown with Australian blood and it is said that more Australians died there than at any other place on earth. The old windmill at Moquet Farm which contained a German command post is today Australian territory, bought and paid for by the Australian government and the lives of our best and bravest who gave their all on those bloody battlefields nearly one hundred years ago.

 I have been to Gallipoli and walked the Kokoda Trail but I get the feeling that standing at the Moquet Farm windmill may be the most poignant experience of all, a place where our young men strived to reach those "Green Fields Beyond", but found only death and slaughter at the hands of the modern military machine. It will be an honour to pay my respects to them.

 And so my planning continues and as the departure date draws near the more nervous I will be no doubt. I hope to blog my way through Europe and to keep you all up to date with what I am up to. I am sure you will all wait with baited breath for my dispatches from the Front. Until then, have a nice day.


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