When I woke in the morning the sun was reluctantly peeking through a veil of high thin cloud, the day looked promising and I thought how good it was to be on holiday once again with my brother, the World’s undisputed early morning farting champion!
The Chateaux had served a wonderful evening meal and after a final drink we had slept for a few hours until they served an equally wonderful breakfast and when that was finished at around mid morning we set off for a drive south towards the city of Amiens but intending first to stop at the town of Abbeville where we arrived at around midday.
Abbeville has a lot of nearby military history. It was here in 1939 that an Anglo-French conference shamefully decided that it was too late to send assistance to Poland in the face of Nazi aggression and then, five years later, was ironically liberated by a division of the Polish army in 1944.
As we drove we passed nearby the site of the Battle of Crécy that took place on 26th August 1346 and was one of the most important battles of the Hundred Years’ War.
The English Knights knew the importance of being willing to fight dismounted elbow to elbow with the pike men and archers, a tactic which was learned from the earlier Saxons and also by their battles with the Scots from whom they learned tactical flexibility and the adaptation to difficult terrain and this made Edward III’s army extremely powerful, even when outnumbered by the French forces by an estimated two to one.
History makes many exaggerated claims about the size of armies and number of casualties but modern estimates say that as many as forty thousand soldiers fought in the battle and although it was an overwhelming victory for the English, as few as two and a half thousand men were killed (lots more wounded and permanently maimed obviously) and this pales into almost insignificance compared to the estimated one million soldiers who were killed or wounded in the more recent World-War-One Battle of The Somme in 1916 fought in the mud and the trenches just a few miles east of Abbeville.
The sun was shining as we drove into the town and parked the car and then we just strolled along the streets and around the main square, the Place de Jacobins, a name which betrayed the socialist and revolutionary heritage of the town and indeed only fifty kilometres or so away is the town of Arras, the home town of the French Revolutionary leader and dictator (some say monster) Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre, the architect and gleeful exponent of the French Revolutionary Terror.
Guidebooks say that Abbeville was once an attractive place but it was destroyed in the German blitzkrieg of 1940 when the town was reduced to rubble as the German Panzer divisions advanced towards the English Channel but I have to say that I found the rebuilt modern town to be very attractive itself, so attractive as it happens that I can only begin to imagine just how picturesque the original town might once have been.
And this is an important point – In France and Germany war damaged towns and cities were rebuilt in a traditional way with buildings that recreated the spirit of the old communities whereas in England our heritage was swept away by the town planners of the 1960s who approved the destruction of anything of value and replacement with concrete and ugliness which condemns English towns for the next couple of hundred years or so to all look the same whereas in France they have recaptured and preserved their individual identity.
So we stopped for a while at a bar in the square and had a beer and a croque-monsieur which is simply a ham and cheese toastie but which seems to enjoy an almost iconic status here in north-east France. The sun was shining so we took our time and around about now decided not to continue on to Amiens but to take a leisurely drive back to Boulogne but this time avoiding the motorways and the tolls that had already cost us an eye-watering, knee-buckling, stomach churning €7.90 on the way down.
Before we left there was one last thing to do and that was to visit the impressive Saint Vulfran Collegiate Church that suffered considerable damage in the German offensive of 1940 but managed to avoid total destruction and has today been fully restored.
And thank goodness for that because it is a flamboyant Gothic masterpiece with all the characteristic elements of this architectural style: flying buttresses and pinnacles on either side of the nave, stone filigree, rose windows and large window tracery that along with gargoyles and statues depicting the various guilds of the town decorate the exterior of the church.
I was left uplifted with the thought that sensitive reconstruction can restore the past and that despite the worst deeds of man history will always prevail. I really liked Abbeville!