Arras Centenary (Spring battlefields 2017: Day One) - Kathryn's history blog

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Arras Centenary (Spring battlefields 2017: Day One)

This week I'm visiting the battlefields of France with my parents and grandparents for the centenary of the Battle of Arras. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more updates.

For our first morning in Arras it was a very early start. We left the holiday cottage at 5:20am to attend the centenary commemoration service at Carrière Wellington. It was just as well that we did as it was very well attended and by zero hour at 6:30 the temporary seating and surrounding areas were full.

The service was very nicely done, with the unveiling of a statue to a New Zealand tunneller and readings of diaries and letters of those, from all nationalities, who fought at Arras. This was followed by the national anthems of the Commonwealth dominions, Great Britain and France.  It was pleasantly surprising that the service was well attended by local Frenchmen as well as  by international visitors.

We returned home for a second breakfast (it was still only 9:30am!) before going to visit the Bullecourt sector, which is just down the road from where we are staying. This village saw two attacks, on 11th April and 3rd May, from soldiers of 62nd (West Riding) Division and Australians from the ANZAC Corps against the Germans on the Hindenburg Line. Due to the larger offensive at Arras, they attacked largely without artillery support and instead used tanks. However, these were unsuccessful with only one making it as far as the village itself and none making it into the Germans' lines. 

The contribution of the Australians is marked with the Australian Digger statue which looks out over their line of attack. Touchingly, the artist had depicted the statue as having his father's face, as he had served in Bullecourt.


We then made our way around some of the neighbouring cemeteries, including Ecoust Military Cemetery, which includes German burials from 1918, and HAC Cemetery, which was expanded from the Honourable Artillery Company after the war as a concentration cemetery. 6,000 casualties were taken in Bullecourt.

It was a beautifully warm and sunny day without a single cloud, so in the afternoon Dad and I went off cycling on the 'Les Grandes Plaines' cycle route around the south and west of the Arras area. This was really interesting for seeing the local landscape of gradual rolling ridges and massive open fields, interspersed with railway lines and industry. We also came across several memorials, including one of a French soldier dressed all in their typical blue.

In the evening we returned to Arras to watch the Scottish beating retreat at Place des Heroes. We arrived in plenty of time so were able to look around the very interesting temporary exhibition of information boards which detailed stories of many people who had served in the area during the war. 

The beating retreat itself was wonderful, with an hour's concert of marching bands and pipers of the Royal Scots Regiment as the sun set. It was a really nice way to see out our first - very long! - day on the battlefields.

Kathryn

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