Day 8 Canterbury – Amiens
Once again we packed our bags in to the bus and headed back to Dover, this time to catch the ferry to France. After a relatively hassle free time getting through customs and immigration we were on the ferry and leaving the “White Cliffs” behind us. We arrived in Calais and then made our way south to Boulogne-sur-Mer, where Julie Keast was to commemorate our first soldier on European soil for this tour. The military cemetery is amongst the massive civilian cemetery and it took some time and a bit of leg work to finally find Daniel Ryan’s final resting place. Like many cemeteries along the coast, the headstones are laid flat on the ground rather than standing up, as the soil will not support the foundations needed for upright stones. As most of the burials here were of those who had made it back to a stationary hospital most were identified and also laid out in a quite orderly if cramped fashion. Our respects paid, we moved further south to Etaples. Although we were not commemorating anyone in this cemetery we decided that as we were so close, we could not miss visiting it. It is among the largest of all Commonwealth War Cemeteries with over 10,000 burials, all of which are identified. The vast number of headstones along with the Gothic looking towers at the entrance looking down on the graves bring home the enormity of the sacrifices made like few other places.
Etaples is also the site of a training camp where British Army soldiers, including many from the AIF, completed their final days of training to prepare themselves for the horror of the war that they were about to join. The camp had a reputation for being a brutal place to train. Many of the NCO’s and officers posted there had never seen action and this caused considerable tension amongst those that they were training. In 1917 two incidences occurred which each resulted in a soldier being shot at dawn for mutiny. Siegfried Sassoon wrote a poem called “Base Details” that expressed the anger that was felt for those in command at Etaples.
If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I'd live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. 'Poor young chap,'
I'd say—'I used to know his father well;
Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.'
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I'd toddle safely home and die—in bed.
A quick stop at a supermarket to stock up on supplies and we made our way to Amiens, our home for the next 5 nights. We settled ourselves in to our apartments and then made our way to a favourite restaurant in Amiens, “ Oz’ange”.