A Travellerspoint blog

July 2016

The Somme Centenary

Day 1

Even though we didn't have to be at the Shuttle terminal for our train to France until 1015 or so we still had to have an early start. I had to take Reggie off to his weekend away at Wyncot Kennels.

Once again he was excited as I turned into the drive and he positively ran off with the kennel lady, again without a backward glance to his Dad standing in the reception area.

Back at the house Claire was doing the last minute packing. The new Saddlemen FTB3600 bag was getting filled with our "duds" that we would need for the ceremony.

The waterproof bags that I bought last year would have other stuff for two days and two evenings in Amiens. They fit snugly in the panniers as long as they aren't overfilled. With rain looking highly likely I fitted the Saddlemen with its supplied waterproof cover. It's bright yellow to help other road users see us in the spray and gloom!

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We were away via a petrol stop to top off the tank as Brexit last week meant that the "markets" (a phrase to describe speculator scum) have forced the pound sterling down against the dollar and euro, and so already expensive French benzine is now even more expensive for us.

On arrival at the terminal, the machine wouldn't accept our booking reference not the card I paid for it. Usually one or the other is good enough to get through. The human-manned check-ins were five or six cars deep and the automatics... empty... A human came to our rescue and did exactly the same as us and it of course worked.

From there we were going to meet two other regulars on the French trips, Ken Fulton and David Robinson. Both actually on Suzukis, the heritage of the Meldrews, born from that club that no one mentions its name. This group was known as Shuttle One.

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We were joined in the terminal by Ian Jenkinson and Paul Brewster aka Bear.

The queues for coffee were far too long and so we didn't bother and then we were called through. As usual there was a holdup, but this time only a ten minute delay, or "retimed", on the crossing. There were quite a few bikes to be loaded and unusually, we were first on the train.

In France the idea was to head along the coast to the Todt Battery for Ian and Bear. The rest of us have been before and we would have lunch.

This is the last we saw of them until Amiens the next day.We had lunch and I texted Ian to say we were eating and then we heard bikes leaving and then after we had eaten we went out to get ready and bikes went past, Dutch riders leaving no bikes in the Todt car-park some 200 yards away. So we set off. With the weather turning to rain I aborted the scenic route for the A16 motorway and 100 minutes later we were pulling up at the hotel. Luckily the gate to the car park was open and so we could ride straight in. Check-in was simple.

By the time we were showered and outside the hotel, some of the Ferry Crew had arrived but still no Ian and Bear, Shuttle One adjourned to the Irish pub around the corner as we have done for the last three years.

Beers drunk, some very strong and some very very strong and then we were joined by the Ferry Crew. It was therefore ten of us that went in search of food.

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We were warned that there might be a delay, but it was gone 2330 when we got out after three courses of well cooked and presented food on the €19.50 "menu touristique".

Time for bed....

Day 2

The day of the commemorations started early for three of the Ferry Crew. They had tickets to the Thiepval event and needed to be away about 5am for the park and ride by Albert Airport.

This made the decision to go to the Ulster Tower for the majority of us seem the best option. We could have breakfast in the hotel and then walk over to the station and get the train to Albert, where our shuttle buses would be waiting. No need for the park and ride. It would be less hassle for men but we had Claire and Elaine Constable in our team. Ladies are less likely to be enamored changing in a field.

As it was We got our tickets and the 0837 train to Albert. Strangely there wasn't another train until 1137 and that was cutting it fine to get the shuttles as they finished at 1200.

We had a few hours to kill before the first bus and there was plenty to do with displays etc. Plus the famous gilded tower that acted as a target for the German gunners and as a symbol to the French defenders.

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At the Tower there was a little confusion where to sit, and sitting was never going to happen as despite few buses going ahead of us, there were no seats left. With the grass wet from days of rain, we ended up with the cardboard boxes left from the packed lunches handed out when we arrived.

Ulster Tower

Ulster Tower

Team Ulster Tower

Team Ulster Tower

Not so bad for the men, but some of the old servicemen there were in their 80's and up and they stood whilst kids sat down on chairs. Not good.

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Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall arrived.

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The ceremony was very moving and the tales of the men and boys that had given their lives brought tears to the eyes.

None more amazing than that of Billy McFadzean (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_McFadzean) who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his selflessness that saved the lives of countless comrades when he threw himself on live hand grenades that had spilled from a box and this was before the assault had started.

We can never know what we would have done in his position.

The weather continued to be a pig, rain, then sun, then rain again. We got soaked to the skin.

And then about 40 minutes late the guest of honour HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall arrived. The politicians from Thiepval didn't show their faces apart from Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn, Our Prime Minister and the French President had cleared off!

Once it was all over and Charles and Camilla had chatted and left, the buses were brought up. It was very slick and we were on the 1705 train back to Amiens. Now dry with wet patches.

A memorable day.

We were back before the Thiepval Three and way before Ian and Paul who had gone to the Canadian ceremony at Beaumont-Hamel that started after our event, and also attended by Charles and Camilla.

In the evening we split into smaller groups and Shuttle One went our own way. Less beer more soft drinks as we had to ride back to UK the next day.

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Another day over.

Day 3

The day to ride home. Once again it was Shuttle-One returning together.

The rest of the Meldrews were going to scatter. One group going to Oradour sur Glane (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oradour-sur-Glane_massacre) and the U-boat pens at Lorient. Another going solo to Normandy and others to the east.

We had a leisurely breakfast and then said our goodbyes and set off. Firstly for petrol as we all needed some and then to Corbie.

There we had a quick stop to place a Somme 100 poppy cross on the grave of William Devall who was killed on July 16th a hundred years ago.

From there we had a cross country journey towards Arras. The rain came and we had to stop so I could get my waterproofs on and effectively they never came off until I was on the Shuttle.

We were in need of a break and it may not have been my greatest decision to take us into Arras on a Saturday afternoon. We had enough time for a coffee and then away again as time seemed to disappear.

We headed for the A26 and headed north. Always chasing the clock and it seemed even with a petrol stop in Calais for David and Ken that we were in good time.... until we saw the queues at the check-in and beyond at the border controls.

In the end it was every man for himself. Once checked in we headed towards the front of the first queue to join some other bikes. Through French passport and then UK Border Agency.

In the end the train we caught with a group from the Goldwing club was about 30 minutes after scheduled. Ken was about half an hour later and similarly David.

Why? Who knows?

The trip was over when we quickly changed and Pepe went into the garage and we went to pick Reggie up from the kennel.

Posted by InvictaMoto 11:55 Archived in France Comments (0)