Day 13 Amiens-Vimy Ridge-Fromelles-Ypres
It was time to leave the Somme region and our base at Amiens and head north to French Flanders across the border to Ypres. This route was in the thick of the western front battles in all the years of the war and the locations we travelled through, experienced the horror of ‘attrition warfare’ at its worst. Our journey followed the pathway of the old Roman roads that characterise the transport links out from Amiens.
Our first stop was to commeorate Percy Treloar, a relative of Charlotte's, who was killed in the 1st Battle of Bullecourt on April 11th 1917. He is buried at Ballieul Road East Cemetery on the north eastern outskirts of Arras, over 16 kms from where he was killed.
We then travelled to north west to Vimy Ridge, a place of great significance to the Canadian WW1 narrative.
The Battle of Arras (April 9 – May 17, 1917) has a huge place in Canadian WW1 history in similar ways that Pozieres and Villers Bretonneux does for the AIF. The tunnels that were constructed where the Canadian Peace Park is now located, were constructed from December 1916 through to April the following year where the battle for Vimy took place. The Canadian government has a wonderful programme which involves university students to have a three-month sabbatical to act as guides in the park. They take groups underground through the extensive tunnel network recounting the 1917 actions.
In the afternoon it was off to the next major part of today’s itinerary, the visit to Fromelles where the AIF had its first experience of western front warfare in July 19/20 of 1916. Meeting up with our friend Pierre Sellier, we learnt of the worst day in Australian military history where 5,330 AIF casualties were recorded including nearly 2,000 KIA. As in previous years since 2010, one of our most significant commemorations took place at the newly built CWGC Pheasant Wood cemetery.
After the 24 hours of the hell at Fromelles in July 1916, many soldiers lay in the fields only to be buried in mass graves. Many soldiers were never recovered, some only recently when a pit of 250 Australian and British soldiers’ remains were finally located, recovered and reinterred largely due to the determination of Lambis Englosis from Melbourne and Tim Whitford who never gave up their resolve to find these men. The new Pheasant Wood Cemetery was completed in time for the reburials of all 250 men during January of 2010. Our guide Rod Bedford was present in his role as President of the Royal British Legion Somme Branch, for every ceremony of reburial.
One of the men identified was Birdwood boy Raymond Pflaum and back in 2010 Birdwood H.S. student Flo Bourke, wrote and recorded a song in his and his mates’ honour called “Known Only Unto God.” Her song has been played when we visit his grave ever since that time seven years ago. As always sharing the story of the 19 year old from Birdwood being remembered by another 19 year old nearly a century later, proved to be one of those ‘CS emotional’ moments.
It was a final goodbye to Pierre and then we were off to Ypres one of the highlights of the tour. This year was even more special as our group has the privilege in staying in the fabulous Menin Gate House…a couple of apartments right next to the iconic memorial. Dinner at Captain Cook Restaurant reunited us with our dear friend Guler Yeral owner, manager of this lovely restaurant: we were home again in Flanders for 6 nights!