by Evelyn McKechnie
This area of France is sometimes known as the ‘forgotten battlefields’ because Flanders and the Somme get more battlefield visitors, yet it is here on the Arras front that has over 150 British cemeteries, which bear testament to the huge losses. It is also where you can see some of the most stunning, picturesque, memorials and villages along with the town of Arras itself.
Arras is the historic centre of the Artois region with its two famous squares and two world heritage sites – the Citadel and the belfry of Arras.
The Wellington Quarry – La Carrière Wellington
One of the most interesting places to visit on the remembrance trail is in Arras itself at the Wellington Quarry. This is an absolute must-see experience. You embark 20 metres down a lift for a 75-minute tour underground into the maze of tunnels and medieval quarries that housed thousands of soldier’s safe underground before the Battle of Arras in 1917.
The huge medieval caverns were linked up by New Zealand tunnelers, with over 20 kilometres of tunnels snaking their way underground towards the German front line. Over 24,000 soldiers hid underground in these huge chalk quarries for nearly eight days before the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917.
The tour is exceptional in information with a tour guide, audiovisuals which blend into the natural walls of the tunnels and caverns, and you feel as though nothing has been touched since 1917. You can see soldier’s names, pictures of their sweethearts, the black indicator paint on the walls indicating latrines, or the smoke from candle burns, or the numbers on the walls to stop soldiers getting lost in the maze of tunnels.
In the beautiful village of Monchy-le-Preux, just a few miles east of Arras, there are two of the most amazing memorials along the Western Front here – one a Caribou built in honour of the Newfoundland regiment where ten men kept the hill despite a vicious onslaught by the Germans.
It is built over the ruins of a cellar fortified by the Germans. Also in this village is the amazing memorial to the 37th Division. This memorial is three soldiers standing back to back and has got to be one of the most beautifully sculptured anywhere on the Western Front.
Lady Feodora Gleichen sculpted this impressive memorial and was the sister of the Division’s commanding officer at Monchy-Le-Preux. It was inaugurated on the 9th October 1921 in the presence of her brother Major General Lord Edward Gleichen. She died a few months later on 22nd February 1922.
Further south in the village of Ayette there is an Indian and Chinese Cemetery. This is one of the few places that commemorate the involvement of Indian soldiers and Chinese workers in the Great War. Most of the deaths were in 1919, due to the fact they were clearing the fields of munitions and died of accidents.
They also filled in the trenches, collected and buried dead soldiers, animal carcasses and some eventually contracted fatal illnesses. Even though the Great War had ended it was still claiming casualties.
Joseph Standing Buffalo
Buried in the Bucquoy Road Cemetery at Fichuex is Joseph Standing Buffalo, the great-grandson of Chief Sitting Bull (Battle of the Little Horn), and son of the Chief of the Sioux Tribe of Indians. Joseph fought as a private in the Canadian Infantry, (the Manitoba regiment) and died at the age of only 20 just a few weeks before the end of the war.
Only a few years before his death, his grandfather was fighting against General Custer and the white man to keep their lands. Now Joseph lies in a grave in a foreign field so far from the native land of his birth and on his gravestone was a feather, a poignant symbol of the native North American Indian.
Notre-Dame de Lorette
At Ablain-Saint-Nazaire is the beautiful French National Necropolis of Notre-Dame de Lorette. The site holds the remains of about 40,000 soldiers, including an Ablain-Saint-Nazaire with the bones of thousands more, a basilica and a museum. It also has a section for Muslim soldiers with their headstones all slightly turned towards Mecca.
There is also a small museum which is well worth the visit and the entry price gives you access to part of the battlefield trench system on the ridge.
There is also a diorama room with a harrowing collection of over 4000 stereoscopic photos of the Great War.
Flame of Peace – La Targette
Just north of Arras, in the village of La Targette devastated in 1918, there are no less than 10 monuments including the ‘Flame of Peace’ which is a hand with a torch rising out of the rubble representing the spirit of the villagers. In 1918, there was nothing else remaining of the village but ruins. The monument is built out of some charred remains of village buildings.
All along the remembrance trail from Arras and among the rolling hills of Artois, efforts continue to remember the tremendous loss of life here from all countries all those years ago.
Zivy Crater Cemetery – Thelus
Zivy Crater was one of two mine craters (the other being Lichfield Crater) which were used by the Canadian Corps Burial Officer in 1917 for the burial of bodies found on the Vimy battlefield. There were 53 burials, 5 of them unidentified. Lichfield Crater holds 57 graves including 15 unknown.
German Military Cemetery of “Maison Blanche”, Neuville-Saint-Vaast
The largest German cemetery in France, containing as many soldier’s bodies as the French Necropolis of Notre-Dame de Lorette, but in a radically different layout. The cemetery is situated on the battlefield and you can view a relief map at the entrance.
It is the final resting place for 44,833 German soldiers of which 8,040 were never identified and buried in a mass grave.
Scottish Memorial and Point–du-Jour Cemetery – Athies
The village of Athies was taken by the 9th Scottish Division (including the South African Brigade) on the first day of the Battle of Arras.
The Scottish Memorial is a replica of a cairn erected in 1746 on the battlefield of Culloden. The cairn is made from Scottish granite blocks piled up in accordance with the funerary traditions of the Celts and bears the names of all the battles fought by the Scottish Division during the Great War. The monument is encircled by twenty-six stones which represent the units of the division.
The Bullecourt and Australian Memorial includes a bronze replica of the hat worn by the Australians and also a piece of tank track which took part in the battle of Bullecourt in April and May 1917.
It is a distinct emblem of Australia and has to be one of the most unusual memorials on the Western Front.
The memorial also commemorates the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th AIF as well as the British 58th (London) Infantry Division and the 62nd (West Riding) Division.
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