Lille to Paris by rail is a short, fast trip and, since we were traveling 1st. Class, we were able to book a taxi through the conductor. What a marvellous innovation. We arrived at Gare du Nord, walked along the platform to the head of the train, and there was a taxi driver with our name on a board. So easy – we felt like royalty. We stayed at a lovely little 3* hotel called Hotel Jeanne d’Arc in the Marais. The hotel is next to St. Catherine’s place, which is a pedestrian-only area fringed with restaurants, all with as many outside tables as could possibly fit. We were surprised at how busy Paris is already. The evenings are very long and the outdoor tables were all occupied well into the night. People were picnicking along the Seine, out walking or taking cruises. There is an extraordinary number of boats plying the Seine, some with hundreds of people on them.
We visited the Musee Carnavale – Histoire of Paris, which we really enjoyed, particularly since there is a special exhibition on called Napoleon and Paris. There were some great political cartoons of the day, and other fascinating exhibits such as correspondence, furniture, uniforms etc. In the main part of the museum, I loved the sign galleries – a unique collection of shop signs spanning the period from 16th. to 20th. centuries. Shopkeepers, whose customers were often illiterate, attracted passing trade by shouting their wares and by using pictures, some of which were very innovative and beautifully designed.
We decided to visit les Catacombes de Paris but didn’t arrive until around the middle of the day and the queue was impossibly long. The weather had changed and the prospect of standing in the drizzle for a couple of hours held no appeal at all. We started walking instead and finished up in the Jardin Atlantique and the Memorial Museum which are located on top of the Montparnasse station. The Memorial Museum traces the history of three Liberation Resistance Compagnons – General Leclerc, Jean Moulin and the City of Paris. Well worth a visit. We spent most of our time in the Jean Moulin Museum and the collection focuses on Paris under occupation during the Second World War. Jean Moulin was the unifying force behind the Resistance Movement and, famously, early in the war, he cut his own throat rather than sign false documents. He survived and was freed but was again arrested and tortured in 1943 and, sadly, died before the liberation of Paris.
In the evening we met friends for dinner at the beautiful Bouillon Racine restaurant for dinner. The restaurant was established in 1906 and it is decorated in the Art Nouveau style – quite gorgeous. Food was excellent and it was a lovely place to spend our final night in Paris.
Our last evening in Ypres we went to the 8pm Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. I was amazed at how many people gathered. A choir sang a Scottish and an Irish song but England and Wales were not represented. Very moving, all the same.
The next morning in Ypres was spent in organising a visit to the doctor for Geoff. It was very straightforward and we only had to wait a little while before leaving with antibiotics in hand. That was a relief! Geoff is recovering and we are both getting more sleep.We spent a few hours in the marvellous Flanders Fields museum before having a late lunch and driving to Lille to drop the car off at Avis. That was interesting, in that we almost got divorced, but we made it in the end! The next day we discovered that the museums we wanted to visit are closed on Tuesdays so we took the sightseeing bus and generally pottered around. In the evening we met up with Bec, a friend of Anna’s who is living and working in Lille, and her French friend Alice, who was visiting. We sat outside in the sun at a nice bar and enjoyed an appero, and then we went to a gorgeous little restaurant called l’Etable. Food was excellent and we had champagne. It was a great night.
The Battle of Polygon Wood took place in the second phase of the Third Battle of Ypres
Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the world and the most important reminder of the Battle of Passchendaele which took place in 1917. In this battle, one of the most horrible in WW1, more than half a million casualties fell for the gain of only 8 km of ground.
Fred was 21 yrs and 8 mths old when he enlisted on April 8 1916. Pte. Hinrichsen, 5th Battalion, AIF, embarked at Melbourne 11/9/16 and died of gas poisoning 27/4/18 and is buried in the tiny military cemetery at Caestre in the company of 149 British, 8 South African, 1 British West Indian and a further 31 Australian soldiers. The cemetery was used by front line units during the fighting to hold the 1918 German offensive and the opening phase of the subsequent advance to victory. Fred’s personal effects, at the time of his death, consisted of a cheque case, pipe, religious books, pocket case, metal mirror, cards, letters, photos, paper cuttings, packet of dried flowers and motor driver’s certificate. I wonder most about the flowers. Not all items were received by his parents as some were lost when the ship carrying them was torpedoed.
Fred was Geoff’s mother’s cousin and family history has it that he nursed little Winifred (Geoff’s mum) in his arms before he left Australia. The gas that killed him (& several others) was delivered by a British shell that dropped-short, exploding in his forward observation post. Such mistakes in the heat of battle were not uncommon.
The last time we visited Caestre was in 2008 and the small brick-walled cemetery was in the middle of large, cultivated fields. Now a new housing estate is being built close to the wall on one side. There will be many young families, all around, creating lives for themselves and bringing up new generations. Something to be celebrated.