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Brian Pohanka
The Western Front:
- Belloy-en-Santerre
- Flaucourt, Bray, Albert
- Y-Sap, Lochnager
   Craters

- Memorials, Thiepval
- Ulster Tower,
   Beaumont

- The Somme
- The Fallen Soldier
- Mametz Wood
- Delville Wood, High
   Wood

- Newfoundland Park
- Hawthorne Crater
- Arras
- Proyart, Chevauchee
- Mort Homme, Fort
   Vaux

- Verdun

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Visit to the Western Front
Part 12: Arras

By Brian Pohanka - October 31, 1999

This brief sketch was originally posted at a Civil War discussion group site and is reprinted here with the author's permission.

Realizing that we had seen most of the Somme battlefields -- it really is rather amazing that so much transpired in such a small area, so much death and destruction, so many thousands upon thousands sent into that inferno -- we decided to take a day and head north, toward Arras, prior to going to Verdun. I wanted especially to see the two areas of sustained combat at Notre Dame de Lorette and the Canadian Memorial Park at Vimy Ridge.

On the way I stopped at the little British cemetery adjacent to the town graveyard at Ballieulmont. Two of the men interred there were executed, fire-squaded, for "desertion," though it seems they in fact had suffered a breakdown -- they had good records -- they could simply not take the hell of the trenches any more. But an example was made of them. Privates Ingham and Longshaw of the 18th Manchesters are buried side by side. Ingham's stone bears the inscription, "Shot at dawn. One of the First to enlist. A worthy Son of his Father." Another very tragic aspect of that terrible war and its terrible toll.

We purposely followed back roads rather than take the Autoroute with its 100-plus MPH drivers -- and also to see those many villages, each sleepy farm towns, each with its War Memorial and the names of the local men who perished in La Guerre '14-'18. As we neared Arras we turned toward Neuville St. Vast, and visited the large German Cemetery there: 17,027 burials, one of, if not the largest German Cemetery on the Western Front. Yet again Cricket and I were the only people there. We looked at the register of burials and found a Leutnant Erich Pufahl -- Cricket's Mother's maiden name was Pufahl and Cricket's grandfather served as a mechanic with a German Jagdstaffel during WWI before emigrating to the U.S. in the 1920s. We found Lt. Pufahl amongst all the thousands of iron crosses; not sure if he was a relation of hers or not. Several rows away was a sunken machine gun pillbox -- right there amidst the graves.

We next headed northeast to the Canadian Memorial Park on Vimy Ridge -- where in 1917 the Canadians mounted a courageous offensive that after horrific fighting managed to capture this crucial high ground. For those who are interested in viewing ground that still reflects the ravages of that War -- this is a must-see. Like the smaller Canadian Park at Beaumont Hamel, Vimy is deeded to the Canadian Government. There is a very nice museum there, and a powerful monument that towers over the highest point of the ridge. But the most striking feature of Vimy Ridge are the hundreds and hundreds of shell-craters, the snaking trenches (some of them restored so one can walk through them), the mine-craters, and the tunnels that one can tour. Like Beaumont Hamel, the craters are covered with grass, that herds of sheep graze -- unlike Beaumont Hamel, numerous pine trees have grown up on the fields, though there is no underbrush (thanks to the sheep). Also unlike Beaumont Hamel, there are many acres "Off Limits" with signs in French and English reading "Danger! No Entry. Undetonated Explosives."

There are several large Allied cemeteries scattered about Vimy Ridge. In one of them I sought out the grave of Lieutenant Arthur E. Boultbee, only 19 years old when he fell to the guns of Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron's" 27th kill.

From Vimy Ridge one can see, within the expansive panorama that unfolds from that strategic height, another ridge about three miles away -- Notre Dame de Lorette. This was ground that the French battled upon for three years -- the opposing lines were more or less stationary there, and millions of shells turned the ridge into something that resembled a volcanic crag. Today it is the site of a large French Cemetery: 20,000 single graves and another 20,000 bodies gathered in a large Ossuaire. There is a tower and a Basilica -- inside the latter all the walls are covered with memorial plaques to French soldiers who fell in the battle there. Nearby is a very nice Museum -- weapons, photos and two dozen manequins fully uniformed and equipped -- including a Zouave, which interested me especially.

As we made our way back to Albert, again driving on the side roads (it took about two hours going that way) I spotted a large ruin atop a hill. We stopped the car and I took several photos -- it was the village of Mont St. Eloi and its ruined Abbey. I had seen this before, I thought, though I could not place the context. When I got back to the U.S. I was glad I'd taken those images, for on the fields below the ruined tower of the Abbey, a large British Aerodrome had been located. No interpretive sign, no monument -- but it was from those fields that the daring pilots in their wood and canvas machines took to the
embattled skies from which many never returned.

red poppy by DLO

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