ARRAS and VIMY

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arras memorial

athies

fampoux

fampoux

fampoux

fampoux

fampoux

fampoux

fampoux

fampoux

gavrelle

point du jour

vimy

vimy

vimy

vimy

vimy

vimy

The Memorial to the Missing at Arras, in the first picture, commemorates nearly 36,000 soldiers who remain missing with no known graves from the battles of Arras, Vimy Ridge, the Scarpe, and the many other local actions of 1917. The memorial is a long colonnade arranged in an arc at whose centre is the Royal Flying Corps, RAF, RNAS memorial. The site also contains a cemetery with over 2,600 graves. The author's Great Uncle is recorded on one of the panels of names on the memorial as he vanished on the opening day of the Battle of Arras, 9th April 1917, at the age of twenty. The British advance on this day was the greatest advance in a single day by any army since trench warfare began in 1914, it amounted to an advance of three miles in many areas.

The author's Great Uncle vanished in the Athies-Fampoux area as his battalion advanced through the British first wave and pushed the German line back towards Gavrelle. His unit, the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, were advancing when he, and about thirty of his colleagues, fell, unusually light casualties for such a day. The irony is that after surviving so much of the war his death may have been caused by 'friendly fire' as the British artillery was firing at the extreme of its range, the advance having been such a success.

The area is now rolling farmland reminiscent of the landscape of Salisbury Plain with few traces of the events of the First War. The river valley and its villages are typical rural France and the open rolling downland shows traces of lanes and roads of great age. The former battlefield is now sliced in two by the A26 motorway and the railway through the valley now carries the TGV and Eurostar trains. It is easy to forget, maybe fortunately, the events of 1917 until one starts to trace the line of small cemeteries out in the rather bleak fields. As the main road crests a ridge and drops into Arras from the northeast it passes the Point du Jour cemetery, which contains the graves of soldiers mostly from the opening days of the Battle of Arras. In this cemetery is a grave of an unknown soldier of the Hampshire Regiment, and as it is only a few hundred yards from where the author's Great Uncle vanished, so maybe it is him. There is no way of knowing.

The battle for Vimy Ridge opened with the Battle of Arras and, in effect, formed the northern part of that battle. The ridge dominates the coal mining region of Northern France and looks over the plain of Douai with a clear view up towards the high ridge of Messines in Belgium. Canadian troops took the ridge on 9th April 1917 and it is now a memorial to the Canadian troops lost here and in parts remains untouched since that time. The French government presented it to the Canadians at the end of the war. The ground does remain dangerous in many places and is fenced off but much has been cleared allowing the visitor to explore lengths of restored Canadian and German trenches. The area is supervised by Canadian students and guided tours are available, including to the underground tunnels where the troops gathered prior to the attack. The Canadian Memorial dominates Vimy Ridge with its graceful towers and massive figures. From the rear of the memorial the ground drops several hundred feet to the flat plains around Douai and Lens, a mining and industrial area.

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