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Published: August 3rd 2017
WWI Cemetery near Steenwerck
It is raining. Not the sort of weather we had ordered. We get a text from our daughter in England informing us the roads in France will be very busy. The French are heading north and the British are heading south for the summer holidays. Hopefully we’ll be ahead of the rush. The hotel car park is emptying out. People are on the move.
We programme Jane to take us to Steenwerck, a small town close to the Belgium border. It was here during the 1914-18 war that hundreds of thousands of young men battled each other and the elements. Today the surrounding countryside is peaceful and productive. The only sounds are from the occasional tractor or birds. An occasional car drives by, otherwise the country roads are deserted. A hundred years ago men were dying from gunshot and shrapnel wounds, gas, or disease. They now lie buried in the many war cemeteries that dot the area. We have come to one such cemetery, Trois Arbres.
Uncle Harry left the quiet shores of New Zealand to do his duty. He died on this day 100 years ago from the effects of gas. We have come today to remember him.
Uncle Harry and comrades
He is an uncle we did not know but his story continues to be told to family members so that his name will not be forgotten. We spend time with Harry, plant an RSA poppy, and wonder what sort of life Harry would have had if he had stayed behind in New Zealand. Along the row are several New Zealand soldiers. There are over 230 NZers in this cemetery. How many get a visit from relatives? Perhaps family members don’t even know where the cemetery is. Work is being undertaken to freshen up the grassed area so it is currently looking rather desolate. Perhaps a reminder of what the countryside was like 100 years ago.
The mood is quiet as we drive on and stop in the town of Armentieres, made famous by a WWI song. We order a coffee, the most expensive we have had, from a rather cheerless mademoiselle from Armentieres. Along the street we have much better satisfaction when we buy two personalized sandwiches. We’ll eat them on the road side somewhere.
We drive through wide open spaces along quiet country roads. Staying off the main roads has kept us away from the hordes of
holiday makers heading north or south. We experienced some heavy traffic as we by-passed Lille before heading west. The farmers have harvested most of their crops and now they need to collect their bales, some round, some oblong. Hopefully they are resting up today. We stop in a quiet town and eat our sandwiches (half a baguette roll each). They are the best.
Today we are staying at a B&B owned by Maria’s daughter and husband. They live in Coucy-le-Chateau, not far from Folembray where Maria has her B&B. On arrival Ric is there to greet us. He shows us to our room. We get talking and soon get shown a large collection of photos taken by an American photographer showing the art work created in caves and other sites by soldiers during WWI. Ric is a portrait photographer and helped the American, Jeffery Gusky. Jeff’s website is worth a visit.
Dinner is at the Bellevue. Once again it is delicious. Oh, the dessert! Tomorrow we head south to Troyes, the penultimate stay on this adventure.
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