DAY 31 ARRAS TO BAPAUME

It seemed to take ages to get out of the city of Arras. Our route took us out the same way we’d come the day before to visit the Carrieres Wellington. It was nearly an hour before we reached countryside again to the south of Beaurains.

Route finding arrow on the trottoir
Countryside at last!

Prairie farming dominated the landscape for most of the day, with huge arable fields and very little in the way of hedgerow or woodland, and consequently little wildlife. We heard the occasional lark, and Tom saw a red squirrel in a tree, but that was it.

Just before Boisleux-Saint-Marc we stopped at the Sunken Road Cemetery, which contains the remains of 416 commonwealth soldiers and 4 Germans. The area was captured from the Germans in March 1917, partly lost a year later, and finally cleared in August 1918. This cemetery was used as a medical clearing station in 1917 and 1918, before being shelled. Many of the graves are of RAMC men. Julie’s grandfather was in the RAMC as a young doctor but we know little about where he served.

Sunken Road cemetery

Just down the road we found a small chapel open, and evidently used by pilgrims as (unusually) there was a bench to sit on and some books about the VF. We wondered why more of these buildings have not been adapted to provide shelter and rest for long distance walkers as they are otherwise unused and mostly unloved too.

Chapel outside Boisleux-Saint-Marc – still a long way to go! We loved the spelling.

A pleasant path along an old railway track between trees gave us some welcome respite from the incessant brisk south-westerly wind. This was where Tom saw a red squirrel.

Respite from the wind

Out into the open again, we trudged on along small country roads and tracks, heads down against the wind. Finding somewhere sheltered to have our lunch was difficult, but we eventually found another short stretch of sunken road with a small grassy bank to sit on. We hunkered down just about out of the wind to eat our sandwiches and drink warm soup.

The rain which had been threatening all morning then started, so we donned wet weather gear and got going again. Down the road we found another, slightly larger, chapel which appeared to be in the process of being restored. It was built before 1636 on land allocated to isolate people with ‘pestilence’ and those suspected of being contagious, presumably during one of the many outbreaks of bubonic plague which swept through Europe at that time. There were a couple of benches inside the chapel but as they were riddled with woodworm we decided to sit on the stone steps instead.

At the next village there were two more small military cemeteries, again linked to the offensives in August 1918. At Gomiecourt South are the graves of 206 British and Commonwealth soldiers and 27 Germans.

Gomiecourt South cemetery

Outside the last village of the day, Sapignies, we visited one of the few German cemeteries in this area, the majority being French or Commonwealth. There are differences in approach, in that the Commonwealth cemeteries are laid out with Portland stone headstones, naming each individual, their age, regiment, and the date they died. The grass is manicured with a small number of colourful plants alongside the graves and sometimes a tree or two. By contrast, the German cemetery was laid with black iron crosses, one for 4 individuals, with trees, no flowers, and more natural looking grass. In this cemetery 1550 German soldiers are buried.

Sapignies German military cemetery

A final stretch of farm track brought us into Bapaume, though not before the rain set in again to hasten our steps the last kilometre to get to our hotel for the night before getting completely soaked.

Approaching Bapaume

Highlights of the day? The cemeteries, really. They cause one to reflect on how fortunate we are to have lived through a time of relative peace.

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