Early day being picked up at ten past six and together with six other Australians we headed to the western front. Our driver was an English speaking Frenchman who seemed to be pretty impatient and fairly expressive when traffic conditions didn't suit. And this was going to be an express trip as he had cruise on 136kmh which I didn't mind but the older lady in the back seemed to be talking nervously. He stopped for a coffee break half way but I think it was so he could have a dart. First stop was Villers Bretonneux a village that is a sister city to Robinvale Victoria. The school here was build by Victorian donations after the village was destroyed in the war. It was taken by the Germans but was retaken by the Aussies and there is a definite Aussie flavor with our flags flying high and smaller flags of green and gold adorning the school and streets. The main street we went down was named Rue de Melbourne. There were a lot of other references to Australia as well. We were a bit early as we were told if you are Australian you get a free day in town.
We went to the Lochnager crator which measures 60 mts across and 30 mts deep. It and six other which have been filled in had been mined and when they were blown the allies had to attack. We were told when this one went off a horse landed 500 mts away. You have to stay on tracks as they keep finding ammunition that hasn't gone off. Ten farmers have been killed at the Somme while ploughing paddocks. On a human side two soldiers were found last November in the fields and were reburied. Five years ago five soldiers were discovered in a grave all holding hands and after DNA was used it was found they were all brothers killed at the same time. There are more cemeteries in this area than pubs in Ireland dotted in fields of wheat and canola. I was always under the impression the Somme was a fairly flat stretch of land but it is all rolling hills and to gain ascendency of the hills was vital. We went to Mailly Mallet and walked through some original trenches that hadn't been plugged into the fields. As explained they were hastily made as they had no shoring and you could see the advantage of having the high position. Here an operation by the Germans was to take two days however three months later only 500 mts had been gained with the loss of thousands.
Had lunch at a restaurant in Peronne where even the driver had a pint good job he's got. Had a look through museum which had old artifacts. The driver was keen to beat Paris traffic so we headed back at 3.45pm. Top speed once again with no stops until we actually hit the city and took an hour to go two kms. Was our man excited then the cars were going every where which reminds of crash this morning on freeway which incidentally the toll is 8.50 euro. We there there not long after as car on its side steam everywhere and some blokes piling out of windows but no one to to worry our driver gave them a clap. Eventually we got to my street or so I thought but he dropped me at Boulevard de Grenelle instead of Rue de Grenelle. Must not have tipped him enough. So I thought this is the time to test my French. After about ten minutes I was successful and had to walk a km to get to right street and I was dry.
Enjoying history I enjoyed the day as long as it was. You couldn't do all the cemeteries and most are just the same however would be great who had relatives there. The landscape from the edge of Paris is covered in crops and soil clay mixed with small stone which apparently was good for digging trenches and the stone held them together somewhat. The driving at peak hour here has to be seen to believe it. It's a nightmare roads seem inadequate for the population don't think I'll be hiring car here.
You can see one photo with a pile of old shells. This was the amount of shells dug up in one small backyard of a house near Pozieres and there a heap apparently twenty thousand ton are dug up each year.