There are 50,000 trees forming the Arboretum, on a 150-acre site bordering the River Tame. The site contains over 300 memorials, each with fascinating stories to tell, covering both military and civilian associations, along with tributes for individuals. To cover such a vast site, several of our members took the road train which provided an excellent guided tour with a commentary on all the major items of interest.
This was followed by a visit to one of the café/restaurants for a spot of lunch and the opportunity to visit the gift shop and purchase mementoes of the occasion. The glorious sunny afternoon was spent on foot, allowing members to roam the huge grounds at leisure and to visit those memorials and places of most interest to themselves.
It is a calming, peaceful and thought-provoking environment and there was unanimous approval that it was a wonderful day out, though there were many tired old legs by the time the coach returned to collect us.
On day two we went to the British Sector, starting at Pegasus Bridge and the Gondrée Cafe (we took our lunch in a café directly opposite the Gondrée) and the Pegasus Bridge Museum, where the original bridge is located. After paying our respects at the Ranville War Cemetery we travelled to the British landing beaches, starting at Sword Beach. We went on to Juno Beach, visiting the Juno Beach Centre, and then onto Gold Beach, before ending the day at Arromanches to see where the Mulberry Harbour was constructed.
On day three we travelled to the American landing beaches, starting at Omaha Beach by visiting Normandy American Cemetery with its manicured lawns and symmetrically-shaped trees. Buried in this cemetery is one of the Nyland brothers on whom the film "Saving Private Ryan" is based. From there we visited the excellent Overlord Museum, with its bomber plane, tanks and many other well-presented and interesting exhibits. We lunched in the pleasant town of Ste Mère Église which is featured in "The Longest Day" (the church in the centre has a mannikin dangling in a parachute snagged on the steeple!). After lunch we visited Utah Beach and its Museum. We ended the day at the German War Cemetery at La Cambe. In contrast with the Allies' Cemeteries, this is minimal and somewhat austere; its memorial gravestones are small and horizontal at ground level, with groups of five grey/black crosses at regular intervals.
At 0800 on day four we set off on the return journey home. The nine of us arrived in Preston around midnight whereas Ian was home well in time for his evening meal.
Photographs, by Jim McDowall, can be seen by clicking here and then clicking "View all albums".
All in all it was a very enjoyable experience although, from a personal point of view, I think that the travelling, especially outward bound, was taxing. Anyone who has any thoughts on where and when we can visit in the future can contact me via email by clicking here.
The party comprised 14 men, 11 "old boys" (Charlie Billington, Jim McDowall, Trevor Sergeant, Tony Olivine, Ian Mather, Brian Rigby, Ian and Alan Yates, Eddie Jenkinson, Roger Smithson and Dave Swindlehurst) and 3 guests.
Some photographs of the visit can be seen here. Others will be added as they are received.
On 5th October at 0500hrs 12 of the 14 were picked up on time at the Holiday Inn in Preston. Roger was collected in Hanley and Ian in Dover. 13 of the 14 were seated together at the front of the coach, the exception being Roger who (for no obvious reason) was further back, among hoi polloi.
After a smooth crossing we arrived on time at our designated hotel in Lille. The hotel was basically satisfactory - it was clean, the rooms were adequate and the continental breakfast offered enough variety to satisfy all tastes. The major problem was that the dining room was not open in the evening. The hotel was situated in the outskirts of the city and a long way from any alternative dining facility - this caused significant difficulties in getting a hot meal. (The bar closed early as well!)
On 6th October at 0830hrs the coach departed for Ypres, under an over-cast sky and in light rain. The first stop was at the "In Flanders Field" Museum, housed in the rebuilt Cloth Hall in the centre of the town. This is a large Museum and it takes some time to cover the whole display. Following this we had a short break to wander round the town and get lunch, and also to acquire a wreath to place on the Memorial at the Menin Gate, in recognition of the Lost.
In the afternoon we had a tour of various significant sites, including Essex Farm, Langemark and Tyne Cot Cemetery - the largest single cemetery for British and Dominion soldiers of the Great War. We also stopped briefly at St Juliaan to see The Brooding Soldier, the Memorial to the 2000 Canadians who died in the first German gas attack of WW1 before proceeding to Poperinge, the location of Talbot House. This is where a rest room (which became known as Toc H, and subsequently generated a large organisation supporting British armed forces around the world) was set up to offer soldiers a clean, wholesome refuge as an alternative to the brothels and beer halls in the town. The house is preserved as a memorial.
We next took a short coach journey to Ploegsteert, known to the British soldier as Plugstreet.
We returned to Ypres, to allow time to explore the town and to have dinner, before watching the nightly ceremony of Last Post at the Menin Gate. At the ceremony Trevor enquired if we would be allowed to place our wreath at the memorial after the ceremony, to be told that we could actually take part in the formalities. So, very proudly, Trevor and David marched across the Gateway and placed the Association's wreath with the other tributes. Had we known that this was to happen, both participants would have worn more appropriate clothing.
After our picnic lunch we travelled to Beaumont Hamel, the site of the Newfoundland Division Memorial. This site has been preserved as closely as possible to its condition at the end of the war in 1918, although time has reduced its impact. Next we returned to Albert, the site of the famous Madonna, for a visit to the Trench Museum.Then we visited Peronne, the home of the L'Historial de la Guerre museum, a splendid exhibition of dress and equipment from both sides of the fighting, but a somewhat anti-septic atmosphere, after which we returned to our hotel.
We next travelled to the Canadian National Memorial and Visitor Centre on Vimy Ridge, the site of the Canadians' major victory. This site has been preserved as closely as possible to its condition at the end of the war, including some of the tunnels through which the front was re-supplied during the fighting. This amazing site was, sadly, our last visit, after which we set off for Calais.
The ferry was late into Calais because of fog in the Channel, and was further delayed back into Dover for the same reason. As a result the party did not arrive back in Preston until after midnight. The excursion was tiring, with a lot of travel and visiting in a short time, but was enjoyed hugely by all the participants. Another visit has been proposed for some time in the future. Watch this space.