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First Timers Tale


apm3tlm
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A rather long posting, I know, but this is aimed for those like myself who have often thought about going over to France/Belgium but have never got round to it. So here is the tale of two first timers who decided at a band practice back in January that they were going to France (and Belgium)……..

On the 21st September, Tracy (the wife for the week) and I set off for the Somme. Living up North had presented our first problem, as it’s a bit of a trek to Dover, after a few calculations and the can we be bothered factor we decided to pay a little more and go for the Hull to Zeebrugge crossing. I would say that this was a good choice and with the meals on board it was just about worth the money.

For accommodation we had booked into Chavasse Farm in Hardecourt aux Bois just off the D938 Albert to Peronne road. It was easy to get to and proved to be the perfect base for the week. Our cottage had all the facilities we needed and was great to return to after a long day on the road.

We had five full days to tour around and in advance I had worked out a plan for the week. However as with all good plans it didn’t survive contact with the ground and we had to be flexible. The biggest factor was time, we were using the Holts battlefield guide to the Somme, but we were nowhere near finishing the itinerary as the sun started to set. So for those planning a trip make sure you have room in your plans to move things around.

Overall we spent four days in the Somme area covering all of the line. The Holts book covered all this area and was easy to navigate with, though having a map also proved helpful. We also had a copy of Walking the Somme and found using this alongside the Holts guide added extra information and allowed a little more understanding of the area.

On the Wednesday we travelled to Vimy Ridge and then into Arras where my Great Grandad is remembered, we also called at Dusains to see the grave of a great Uncle. Alongside family members I have spent the past few months tracing the names on our village cenotaph and this made touring around and visiting the CWGC a lot more personal and is something I would recommend doing.

As an added bonus we decided to drive from Arras over to Ypres for the last post ceremony, it is something that both of us have participated in as band members but have never seen from the other side. Luck was in for our visit as the band of the Grenadier Guards were at the ceremony and though it pains me to say it as a former Army Musician (non Guards), they were very good.

Overall our week in France was most enjoyable, if that’s the right word? Having read many books on the Somme I can now read them again with a better understanding of the area and battlefields. We are both now hooked and are already planning our next trip.

For those first timers planning a trip, make sure you have a good map of the area. Also we took a laptop and it came in handy for finding places to eat and working out routes to the well hidden CWGC, such as Grove Town. Finally if you are still thinking about visiting all I can say is go for it, yes it does cost a fair bit, but it beats sitting on a beach, the beer is better and the memories will last forever.

Andy

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I remember my first trip in 1986 to visit the Greatgrandad that to my knowledge had never been visited by a family member... Incidentally at Grovetown..........I got the bug and have been back many times since .......I also understand when you say is ' enjoyable ' the right word, when so many had to suffer for us to have that enjoyment but how else can you describe it? Colin

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Yes, that first time (especially after so many years of waiting, reading and wondering) is very special. I had a lot further to travel than yourselves but that doesn't take away what any of us got out of the experience.

Oh and Chavasse Farm is THE place to stay. I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments there regarding space and centrality.

Welcome to the forum, welcome to the world.

Jonathan

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Great to read of your adventure Andy!

I am already excited about a planned trip to France at the end of 2014 unfortunately over a Northern Hemisphere winter coming from our Summer! My plan is to get to Villers Bret, Fromelles and the Menin Gate where I have relatives buried and commemorated!

We have already made contact with the owner of a Chateau in Doullens and will be staying for a fortnight which will give me the opprtunity to travel to the areas around Fromelles and Villers Bret where two of my great uncles are buried and the other has no known grave like many others but is commemorated on the Menin Gate which is where the whole family will travel up to and hopefully we will get to see the Last Post Ceremony also!

I have been learning a great deal from what others are doing and will hopefully benefit as a first timer also! I think it will end up being a long time between visits for me though!

Cheers

John

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Am I the only one wondering about Tracy and how "the wife for the week" enjoyed the experience?

Regards

Ian

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Am I the only one wondering about Tracy and how "the wife for the week" enjoyed the experience?

Regards

Ian

No Ian you are not. I am still trying to work out the definition of 'wife for the week', I thought they came as a lifetime incumberance.

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Thanks for the replies, I was a little worried that my waffle would be too much as most postings are short and to the point.

The term wife for a week came about as we spent all week with everyone thinking that we were a couple, we are friends who play in a concert band. Of course I made the most of this and let Tracy do the cooking and washing up whilst I did the man jobs of reading a map and opening the wine!

Both of us enjoyed the week and unless we fall out over who plays the most wrong notes, we will be getting married (for the week) and doing it all again next year.

Andy

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Ah! That old chestnut. "Friends who play together..."

Better watch out. 10 years ago I too went on a holiday with a "wife for the week", and this year have ended up with her as a "wife for life"...

't previous incumbent wasn't best pleased.

;-)

Regards

Ian

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Thanks for that Andy, very interesting reading and a very moving image of the headstone and the Peacock butterfly (?) representing the transience of life at the time.

I'm going to stay at Beaumont Hamel View B&B tomorrow for a long weekend and am concentrating on the Authuille/ Black Horse Bridge/ Lonsdale/ Leipzig Redoubt/Wunde Werk area.

Re places to eat, my all time favourite is the Auberge de la vallee d'Ancre in Authuille, superb !

Best wishes

Charles

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Andy, congrats on your one-week-battlefield wedding and thanks for sharing your experience !!

nice picture also !!

MM.

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The only suggestion I can add for first timers is that, if you own a sat nav, download the CWGC cemeteries PoI file. There's certainly one for TomTom and I think there's a workround on this forum for Garmin. It's the work of Forum member BraunstonBruce and is a brilliant piece of work that will get you to the front gate of the cemeteries without any of the usual hassle and arguments between navigator and driver (my wife of 40+ years is a brill map reader but this really does relieve the stress).

John

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The only suggestion I can add for first timers is that, if you own a sat nav, download the CWGC cemeteries PoI file. There's certainly one for TomTom and I think there's a workround on this forum for Garmin. It's the work of Forum member BraunstonBruce and is a brilliant piece of work that will get you to the front gate of the cemeteries without any of the usual hassle and arguments between navigator and driver (my wife of 40+ years is a brill map reader but this really does relieve the stress).

John

Kudos to BraunstonBruce, but you can also download files for TomTom and Garmin at www.ww1poi.com with the cemeteries, and many more points of interest.

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I remember my first visit about 15 years ago and have visited 2/3 times a year ever since, well and truly been caught by the western front, my wife of 34 years has travelled 3 times with me but finds it to emotive and has let me wander with like minded friends ever since with barely a complaint.

Dave

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Andy, your post isn't waffly at all, it's always good to hear someone else's experience. It's certainly better organised than my first visit which was the definition of the phrase "fail to prepare and prepare to fail".Or something like that (it was on one of those inspiring corporate posters with a whale's tail on it). I took two first time visitors over last month and I'm heartened to learn that someone else found that the timetable slipped; I found we got through about a half to two thirds of what I'd planned for but it wasn't a problem at all. Lovely photo of the butterfly by the way. Pete.

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I found we got through about a half to two thirds of what I'd planned for...

...that's the beauty of it for me, there's always a reason to go back, always something new to see.

My family are constantly amazed at my ability to stand in an empty field (usually while they're sitting waiting in the car!) and feel the vibes of the past - only those of us who have visited the Western Front will understand that special 'atmosphere' that I'm talking about.

Hoping to be back again next month!

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We found after our first trip a couple of years ago that there is something about the Somme that seems to call you back. We spent another fortnight there this year and are already talking about the next time.

On our first trip, we found the Holt's book invaluable, but we doubled the time to allow for each stop and still found it wasn't enough. We spent weeks planning our itinerary this time and it did survive pretty well, although we added in extra bits as and when we felt the need - we read a number of books and pulled out bits from them all to look for on our stops.

I'm glad you enjoyed your trip - I'm sure you'll go back!

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Nice account, thanks for sharing. The first trip always leaves an impression, as does any new experience. My first visit was in 1985! I was 17. Never stopped going back.

Regards

TT

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thats it you will now have to book every year, your fact finding to assist what you have seen will increase, book requests will become definable for the area's you become interested in.

enjoy it.

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It is addictive. I've been twice the Somme battlefield. The first time we went to where we thought our Gt Uncle had been badly wounded. When we got back I did a lot more research (with invaluable input from the members of this forum) and found that he'd survived that engagement and actually copped it a couple of weeks later. So we had to go back a couple of years later and visit that site. No hardship, though. One of the most moving and fulfilling experiences of my life.

Edited by charley_bourne
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