We spent 2 nights in Arras so we would have time to visit the many Commonwealth graves in the area as well as the Vimy Ridge Memorial. On the first day we woke up to cool and rainy weather. We started the day with a coffee/tea at a local café in Lens, right across from the Louvre Museum – Lens. I was happy to find this site because I am not sure I will have the patience to wait in line once we get to Paris.
The museum is quite new. Opened in 2012, it is located over the site of an old mine. They took quite a few years to prepare the site for the eye-catching building. The exhibit was free. It traced our human history using artifacts from 3500 BC to about 1900. Some of the pottery or ceramics caught my eye as I thought they would look right at home in my house today.
After a few hours, we visited a few Commonwealth gravesites but I was getting colder as the day went on. I was also hungry because we hadn’t had breakfast at our hotel since the food selection had nothing I could eat.
At one point Leon drove down a small back road into a farmer’s field to find the 9 Elms Cemetery. He drove through puddles and noticed some poppies on the side of the road. How unexpected! We finally got to the property we were looking for only to be unable to find the person’s name on the register. Leon walked all around the cemetery while I went back into the car with the register to look more carefully in a dry setting.
When Leon got back in the car, he checked his information and found that we wanted the 9 Elms in Belgium, not France. These are the crazy adventures we go on. In the meantime, I had learned a few things by reading the register. It seems that remains were taken from different sites to assemble in the one cemetery. It is all listed very carefully.
Visiting these gravesites may seem a bit morbid, but it’s not at all like that. The sad part is looking at the ages of the soldiers. Seeing that they may be buried with some colleagues who died on the same day is a reassurance. And then the tidy manner in which the cemeteries are kept also gives a sense of respect. Some gravesites have a postcard from family who has visited. In our case, we always wrote in the visitors’ book to mention that we visited a certain soldier’s grave. As Leon says: “Some of these guys may not get visits at all.” Ok, that part is sad.