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Published: August 14th 2019
Our trusted magpie
Same colourings as the bird
Danielle and I wake up early - as we always do on “moving day”. We have another great breakfast - I’ll never get tired of making myself perfectly boiled eggs in the Roller Grill Egg Boiler - holds up to 10 individual egg baskets - with individual egg timers (6 & 1/2 minutes makes the perfect soft boiled egg) and an egg shell cutter (scorer) for easy access.
We pack, load up magpie and program “M” for Calais.
The drive is beautiful up along the coastline with both stunning views of the English Channel to the east and rolling golden farmers’ fields to the west.
Calais itself is anything but stunning.
It overlooks the Straight of Dover - the narrowest point on the English Channel. It is a major port with endless ferries crossing back and forth carrying cargo and people between England and mainland Europe and vice versa. The Chunnel exits just beside the city. Over 10,000,000 ”visitors“ annually come to Calais. In recent years Calais has seen more than its fair share of migration issues and asylum seekers causing tensions between England and France as more and more migrants smuggle their way into Great Britain.
Calais was virtually razed to the ground during WW II - It became a command post for German forces and was the launch site for the V 1 flying buzz bombs (early cruise missiles - doodlebugs) and large railway artillery guns capable of firing across the Channel. Once the weapons became ineffective over the channel their terror was aimed directly on the newly liberated Antwerp - eventually the recipient of more German bombs than London.
The German army strongly defended Calais believing that the allies would ultimately invade - something the Allies had no intention of doing after the lessons learned at Dieppe.
Unlike most old ports Calais was not rebuilt to its old glory.
Danielle and I stay at a Holiday Inn - it overlooks the ferries - my hope (never fulfilled) was that we would be able to see the Cliffs of Dover across the Channel.
We unpack - I blog and we decide to have a late dinner in the hotel restaurant. Danielle has an inedible bacon wrapped melted Brie salad and I an equally inedible bland curry chicken breast and of course frites. I (as always) eat all of mine anyway
- Danielle barely touches hers.
We get up early - have a horrible breakfast (included with the room) and head up the coast 47 km to Dunkirk.
Dunkirk - of recent 2017 movie fame - lies 10 km from the Belgian border. During the May 1940 Battle of France - British and French troops were overtaken by German Panzer attacks and had to retreat around the port of Dunkirk. 400,000 soldiers were trapped. The German commander unexpectedly halted the attack to allow maintenance of his tanks and protect his flanks - he incorrectly thought they were vulnerable.
This lull gave gave Churchill the time to implement “Operation Dynamo”. A small armada of small and larger - many non-military boats were able to rescue 338,000 of the 400,000 men including 123,000 French soldiers. These brave civilians risked their lives to do so - many of their boats were filled with the rescued over capacity. Two of the rescued French soldiers were billeted at Hazel’s home in Bournemouth.
The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division tried unsuccessfully to liberate Dunkirk in 1944. The port ultimately surrendered to the Czechoslovakian allied forces on May 9, 1945.
Danielle and I visit
the “1940 Operation Dynamo” museum in Dunkirk - fully dedicated to that evacuation.
Saturday night - August 3rd we decide to treat ourselves (actually I had no say in the matter) to a good (very expensive) sea food supper. Danielle ordered and returned uneaten - but fully paid for - a entire brown rock crab (torteau) followed by Moules a la creme. I had the Moules provenciale. Neither of us really enjoyed the meal but ate anyway - for that price we both were willing to risk seafood poisoning.
On Sunday I thought I would mix things up for Danielle - no WW2 stuff today..
We program M and drive 100km to the WW I war museum - ”Carriere Wellington” in Arras. I just know Danielle will love the over 2 km trek 70’ underground through freezing chalk mined underground tunnels dug out by WW I British Commonwealth soldiers (including 500 miners from New Zealand, Maori and Pacific Islanders, London “underground” experts and short coal miners). 20 km were dug out to accommodate up to 20,000 men - equipped with running water, lights, kitchens, latrines, a light rail system and a fully equipped hospital. In WW I
in our tunnel gear
Danielle will never forgive me for posting this.
I think we look great....
It was used for a surprise attack in the Battle of Arras. In WW2 the tunnels were used as air raid shelters.
Danielle even got to wear a great outfit while going through the tunnels - picture attached.
Keeping up with the WW I theme today we program M and carry on to visit Vimy Ridge - the largest Canadian overseas memorial. The Vimy ridge battle was also part of the battle of Arras in WW I. Four divisions (first time they fought together) of the Canadian Corps in the First Army were tasked with taking the German 6th Army held high ground at Vimy Ridge. They were in effect fighting over an open graveyard of over 100,000 French troops that had already lost their lives in their attempt to capture this high ground.
Over 10,000 Canadian troops were either killed or wounded in this operation - but ultimately it was a success.
The memorial is made of gleaming white marble and is adorned with haunting sculptures - it stands as a terrible yet poignant reminder of all those who lost their lives.
We visit the “Cimitiere Canadian Givenchy Road” and Canadian Cemetary No 2
Canadain cemeteries close by and then head back to Calais.
Another emotional day.
The good - starting to tick off all the boxes on my wish list of places to visit following along the Maple Leaf route - including some extra sites from WW I.
The bad - there are rarely any public washrooms near many of the sites / memorials we have visited. I can’t even sneak into the forest as there are many postings (one picture attached) warning of unexplored mines and or bombs. One has to have the constitution of a camel sometimes.
The ugly - why do most tourist centres today have such horrible places to eat - I guess they know we have little choice...
The funny - our Tunnel gear
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A horse with no name by America
Love those helmets. Great reading once again.
Love the photos.
Thanks for all the great photos, Keith. The ones of the cemeteries are very touching. I love your Tunnel gear, the brain bucket of which is very becoming, lol.
Sal Foran Robusky
There was sand and hills...
Love the photos, both sentimental touching ones and the one of you and Danielle. Now Keith, this Roller Grill Egg Boiler? Did you bring it with you? Smart idea for traveling especially since the food sucks. I was hoping to hear of grand meals along the way but this doesn't seem to be the case. Thanks for sharing all the info of all things war, some of it I did not know. Very interesting and at the same time as you say, very sobering. Hugs to you and your gal! Sal & Al xoxo