Northern France, Commonwealth War Graves

Commonwealth war Graves Boulogne

It was early, peaceful and eerily serene and apart from a gardener carefully tending the flowers and the occasional snipping of his secateurs around the graves we were the only people there and there was no sound and I was struck by the quiet solemness that seemed to lay heavily on this place. Each gravestone is the same regardless of rank and they line up in rows as though they were soldiers on a parade ground.

Most of these victims of war were obscenely young but what struck me the most was that many were buried here but simply marked in the words of Rudyard Kipling as ‘An unknown soldier of the Great War’.  I didn’t care to think about the horrific injuries that they must have endured that stripped away their identity.

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France, A Medieval Walled Town

Even as we arrived in Dinan I was thinking half an hour might be more than enough but I was forced to recalculate very quickly when we arrived in the old town which is a warren of narrow streets where it appears that time has stood completely still.

Dinan it turns out is one of the best preserved medieval walled towns not just in Brittany but in all of France.  After only a moment or so in this picturesque setting I had elevated it straight into my top ten of favourite places even leaping above Santillana del Mar in Spain, Shiltach in Germany and Hallstatt in Austria and before very long we were looking in the Estate Agent’s windows.

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Memories of World War – Clairière de l’Armistice at Compiègne

Armistice 1918 1940

Close by to where we were staying in Vic-Sur-Aisne was a particular place that I was keen to visit so one morning after breakfast I set off alone towards Compiègne and to the Clairière de l’Armistice, a historic site where the armistice of 1918 brought the First-World-War to an end and where in 1940 Adolf Hitler dictated the terms of the surrender of France.

The site is deep in the Compiègne Forest about forty miles or so north-east of Paris at a railway junction that was quickly prepared in October/November 1918 to enable the German negotiators to meet with the soon to be victorious allies.

It is not a spectacular site, there is nothing grand about it, it is one of those places that you visit because of what happened there not for what you are going to see.  Two momentous moments in European history.

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A Gate in France, Three Ways

Vic Sur Aisne Door

I liked the town of Vic-Sur-Aisne, I liked the Wednesday street market where I bought Toulouse sausage to make a cassoulet, I liked the friendly local people in the bar who made me feel welcome, I liked the boulangerie that sold tempting pastries, I liked sitting on the pavement outside the bar beneath the tower of a medieval castle where I daily reflected on the history of the region …

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Northern France, The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques

The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques

The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques was a giant bunker built by Nazi Germany between March 1943 and July 1944 and was originally intended to be a launching facility for the V2 ballistic missile.

It was designed to accommodate over one hundred missiles at a time and to launch up to thirty-six a day all destined to land and explode on London and the South-East of England. The facility was designed to incorporate a liquid oxygen factory and a bomb-proof train station to allow missiles and supplies to be delivered from production facilities in Germany.

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France, Le Tricolore et La Fenêtre

At the top of the climb we went through the charming town of St Pons-de-Thomieres and as we sat in the mid morning traffic we drove past the Hôtel de Ville and in the courtyard there was a magnificent statue of Madame Liberty, the traditional female embodiment of the French Republic with her ample bosom unashamedly thrusting out and exposed to all.

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tricoloure window 2Tricolour window

The Battlefield Site of Agincourt

Agincourt Archers

I visited the battle site that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time.  So unremarkable in fact that I may well have missed what is now a rather insignificant field in northern France if it wasn’t for the roadside decoration where English archers and French cavalry faced each other once again in row after row of wooden statues.

A few neighbouring wind farms apart, the terrain has barely changed in the six hundred intervening years and today the battlefield is exactly that – a field, with ploughed ridges a foot deep, flanked by trees on either side. Sixty miles west of Lille, the flat country is broken up by poplars dotted with mistletoe, red-roofed bungalows and small Gothic churches with broach spires.

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