The day started out with a French breakfast from the hotel and some quick shopping for a picnic lunch later near Vimy Ridge. Then it was off to the train station to take a train to the town of Vimy. Our professor preferred that we should walk up to Vimy Ridge as the soldiers did in World War One (sans the shelling) in order to better understand how difficult it was climb up the ridge let alone without people shooting at you. Everyone seemed to agree afterwards that it was a good idea. Although we did take a wrong turn twice at the start, we eventually found our way to the road going towards the memorial. We passed by many trees planted at the side of the road that our professor later told us were planted by Canadian troops and are actually trees native to Canada. The walk was actually pretty peaceful, we only stopped once where Professor Ben remarked that we had made good time, unlike the Allied Forces who took two years to reach where we were. Once we were closer to the front line we were actually able to walk around in the German observation trenches, which had been recreated to preserve the battlefield. These trenches only had a few soldiers in them at a time to keep watch on the front line, the rest were farther back in the trenches. While we slowly explored these more we approached where we were going to have our tour through the chalk tunnels made by Welsh miners to get closer to the German line.
These tunnels were made in preparation for the Battle of Vimy Ridge, part of the Battle of Arras, which started on April 9th 1917. Like in the tunnels through that Wellington Quarry they had to use pickaxes so as not to let the enemy know where they were tunneling, although the the Germans knew that they were. The going was much easier because they were tunneling through chalk, however, this also made it more difficult to hide the bright white chalk. Often they used it in sandbags, but there was far too much for that so they piled it in some of the craters and covered that with mud, and even went as far as transporting it farther behind the line. Some of the tunnels were even used to go under the tunnels of the Germans to set off mines. From time to time the soldiers tunneled into enemy tunnels and had to engage in hand to hand combat, often in the dark, in order to survive. When we came out in the end, the sun seemed to be brighter. The tour was very thorough and afterward it continued into some of the recreated Canadian observation trenches. Our tour guide pointed out that the space between the opposing lines was so short that the Canadian and German troops could talk with each other or throw things over Dead Man’s Land. She also told this story of a short truce between the troops when they wanted to… ehm… relieve themselves they would pull down their pants in order to walk to the facilities without being shot at. After this tour we had a three hours in the area to have our picnic, to walk through the trenches, go to the Visitor’s Centre, explore the cemeteries, and visit the Vimy Ridge Memorial. Honestly, I spent most of my time at the memorial, so I can’t tell you about much else, other than how beautiful the area and monument are, especially when it is sunny.
Once we took a bus back to Arras we all had some free time to explore the town. Some caught up on a little sleep, others went up to the top of the Beffroi, and I visited the Place de Victor Hugo. You might remember him as the author of the book Les Miserables, the book which was adapted into the musical we watched in London. After the free time it was time for dinner in Arras where we had a crepe, fish and rice, and a waffle with cream at Le Passé Temps. That was all for today, thanks for reading!
P.S. We are still having some trouble with pictures, but I’m sure at the end we will have plenty to share with you anyways.