Well we’ve just returned from a super family holiday with my lovely daughters and son-in-laws and great grandsons spent in a delightful old farmhouse down in the Lot valley. Everything went beautifully and we had loads of fun, great weather, and nice food and wine. Sadly all great holidays are over much to quickly and we spent the last couple of days driving back. Yesterday we were en route to Calais from our overnight stop in Compiègne and we had a little bit of time to spare. We’d pulled off from the autoroute and headed to Arras to get some shopping from a Leclerc supermarket. Having done that we headed on the A road up to Bethune before picking up the A1 again. En route we passed several of the war cemeteries which pepper this part of N France. I passed the turning for the one at Vimy ridge which I fancied seeing but the traffic was heavy behind me so reluctantly I continued on for short while and came across the British cemetery at Souchez called Cabaret Rouge, named after a former cafe on the site. It looked beautiful and I pulled over for a walk around.
Now I’ve been meaning to visit a First World War site for ages. It may sound a bit dark but the reason is my grandfather saw action in this area losing his leg and killing several of his unit colleagues when he triggered a German mine’s trip wire. He returned home from the war badly smashed up physically and emotionally at the age of just 17. It’s staggering when you think what these young men endured. I was talking to my son-in-law about it on holiday. He had a bit more time on the way back and he and my daughter and the boys were planning to visit Ypres to see witness the last post which sounded cool. 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the terrible war after all so what better time to make a visit?
I wasn’t disappointed by Cabaret Rouge. It contains nearly 8,000 graves – it’s nowhere near the largest but the sight of all those pristine white headstones is just so moving. The British soldiers buried there were mostly from London regiments and there were many headstones for fallen Canadians. So many of the graves were for unknown soldiers. I couldn’t believe just how many there were. I have to say the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do a fantastic job keeping these cemeteries in stunning condition. We were the only visitors and spent some time just walking round taking things in. It is a poignant sight and I had a moment or two to think about my grandfather and all these men who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we and my family have the freedom today to visit France on holiday. Nobody spotted but I got a little, er, reflective.
I left some words in the visitor book. Many, many people had been there before us and obviously felt similarly. Back in the car I talked to C about making another less hurried visit at some point so we can check out more places and some of the preserved trench systems and the like. I’d like to take in the Somme where I believe my grandfather fought but for the moment I’ll have pleasant memories of an hour at Cabaret Rouge to round off our holiday…