TOWN OF ARRAS IN FRANCE’S PAS DE CALAIS REGION TOPS FOR WW 1 & 2 SITES …

Arras is 182 kms (113 miles) north-east of Paris, 110 kms (68 miles) from the English Channel, and 152 kms (94 miles) from Brussels, capital of Belgium. From Paris by train will take you about 50 minutes. As the town – it is beautiful – falls in a region of France which had seen fierce […]

Arras (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Arras (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Arras is 182 kms (113 miles) north-east of Paris, 110 kms (68 miles) from the English Channel, and 152 kms (94 miles) from Brussels, capital of Belgium. From Paris by train will take you about 50 minutes.

As the town – it is beautiful – falls in a region of France which had seen fierce fighting during both our world wars, it is, if you are a war memorial and war cemetery buff, a must for visiting.

Arras British Forces Cemetery (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Arras British Forces Cemetery (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Many coach tours from the United Kingdom call in at Arras, many of these with overnight stays, but the town is good too for a day trip from Paris, or any Belgian or Dutch, and even German town.
For a day trip from Paris you will have to take the TGV fast train from Gare du Nord (railroad station). It is a non-stop ride and pleasant. A return ticket will cost you around €40 First Class, and you can buy your ticket either in advance from the railroad’s website (SNCF) printing out your ticket, or you can buy it from one of the ticket machines on the station. These are in several languages. Or you can line up at a ticket office but this choice promises to take long: you will undoubtedly see about 30 people lining up. The clerks are slow but friendly, and they speak a little English: enough English for you to understand what they want you to hand over for your ticket.

I wrote about Arras, the town here, so do please read it to give you a broader picture of the town.

Arras May 2015 - town hall 1

Arras Town Hall – and tourist office. (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

 

Regarding the war memorials and cemeteries, I suggest you start with a visit to the exhibition ‘De terre et d’acier, archaeologie de la Grande Guerre’ (Of earth and steel, archaeology of the Great War) on at the moment and until Tuesday, August 25 this year (2015).

The exhibition is being held in what is called the ‘Casino’, but no, it is not a gambling casino: it was meant to be but as the law in France is that a gambling casino must be bordering water – the sea or a lake – the building had to be used for something else. Therefore, this exhibition is being held there in its basement.

You will see the signs for the exhibition on Place des Héros (the locals call this square the Petite Place) beside the town hall you can see above.

Entrance to the exhibition is not however from Place des Héros but from a narrow cobbled street – Petite Rue Saint-Géry – to its left and running from the square. Entry will cost you €5 and it will take you about an hour to see everything. And you can take photos provided you do not use a flash. The exhibition is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day but Monday and public holidays called jours fériérs here.

Used for digging the tunnels (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Used for digging the tunnels (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

The exhibition consists of 300 WW1 items found in archaeological digs in the region. You will see weapons, eating and cooking utensils, tins, bottles, packets of poison to kill vermin and indeed the skeleton of a rat, no doubt having made a meal of the poison.

For killing vermin (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

For killing vermin (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

 

Skeleton of one of the vermin - a rat. (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Skeleton of one of the vermin – a rat. (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

 

After your visit to the exhibition, I suggest you visit the Vauban Citadel. If you had taken the train to Arras and you are therefore not mobile, take the town’s free bus. The bus called macitadine, small and colorfully marked, leaves from about 20 stops in the town: you won’t miss the stops because they are clearlypointed out as macitadine stop and a timetable is given at the stop. The bus drives continuously through the town always going from left to right. The buses have a limited capacity so if it is already full when it gets to the stop where you are waiting, it won’t stop, but know that within 10 minutes or so another will pull up.

Arras May 2015 Citadel - 1
The bus will drop you right in front of the Vauban Citadel on Boulevard du General de Gaulle. The drivers know that tourists take the bus and all therefore know a little English, so when you get on you can ask in English to be told when the citadel stop is reached.

The Citadel was constructed by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Lord Vauban (1633-1707), in the years 1667 to 1672. Today it comprises a chapel and a memorial for the 218 Resisters the Germans had executed from 1940- to 1944, i.o.w. during WW2. The memorial was constructed on the spot where they had been shot, and there is a plaque for each giving name, age, date of execution and home towns.

 

Resisters shot by the Germans in WW2 (copyright Mairlyn Z.Tomlins)

Resisters shot by the Germans in WW2 (copyright Mairlyn Z.Tomlins)

 

The chapel is beautiful and interesting in that behind the altar where there would usually be an icon or statue of Jesus or the Holy Virgin is an icon-style painting of an armed WW1 soldier. There are also two flags in the chapel: the French one and the European Union flag.

Chapel in the Citadel (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Chapel in the Citadel (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

An armed soldier behind the altar (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

An armed soldier behind the altar (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

 

Inside the chapel (Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Inside the chapel (Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

To get to the memorial – the le Mur des Fusillés – you need to walk on after the chapel and continue through a short tunnel.

 

Memorial plaque (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Memorial plaque (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

After your visit to the Citadel return to the road where you had descended from the small free bus and you can either get back on to another of the buses, or you can walk. (Remember that the bus route circles around the town, so it always goes in the same direction, which means there where you had descended you have to ascend too.) If you want to walk, it is a very short walk, and a pleasant one. Your destination will be the Arras WW1 Memorial and the British Forces Cemetery. The cemetery is behind the memorial.

British Forces tombs (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

British Forces tombs (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

The Arras Memorial commemorates 35,000 soldiers from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who fell in and around Arras between the Spring of 1916 and August 7, 1918 when the fighting stopped as the Germans, knowing that they had lost the war, had begun to retreat. The 35,000 have no known grave. Canadian and Australian soldiers also participated and fell in the fighting but they are commemorated at the Vimy and Villers-Bretonneux memorials.

The Arras Memorial (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

The Arras Memorial (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

On each tomb in the cemetery is engraved the name, rank, age and home town of a soldier. If a soldier was a Jew a Star of David is engraved on the tombstone.

A tomb for one of the British soldiers who fell here (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

A tomb for one of the British soldiers who fell here (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

After your visit to the cemetery, you must return to Arras because there is still another memorial to visit: the Wellington Quarry Memorial.

Arras May 2015 Wellington Memorial - 3

You will again on Boulevard du General de Gaulle take the small free bus back to Arras. You will descend at the Arras railroad station and outside the station you will take a paying bus (€1 for a ticket) to the Wellington Quarry Memorial – the Carrière Wellington. Several of the buses that leave from the station go in that direction, so ask the driver. He, too, accustomed  to visitors, will know enough English to understand you and for you to understand him.

The Wellington Quarry Memorial is on Rue Arthur Deletoile which is off Avenue Fernand Lobbedez where the bus stop is. You will see the flag posts of the memorial from the bus, and the bus driver (and I am sure the passengers too), will without you asking, point you in the right direction.

Flags of the countries who had died in the Battle of Arras at the Wellington Quarry Memorial (

Flags of the countries who had died in the Battle of Arras at the Wellington Quarry Memorial (

From the Middle Ages until the19th century there had been limestone quarries underneath the town of Arras. At the beginning of the 1900s the limestone was no longer used in construction so the quarries were closed. However during WW1 the British, controlling Arras, decided to use the quarries as shelters from German shelling. New Zealand, part of the allied forces against Germany, then provided miners, 500 of them, from the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, to dig tunnels linking the quarries so that soldiers could move from one shelter to another without risking being hit by German shells.They were also to dig bunkers.

The New Zealanders, many of them Māori and Pacific Islanders, were joined by British coal miners, and together they dug 20 kms(12 miles) of tunnels and bunkers some 22 m (70 ft) under Arras. An interesting detail is that many of the diggers were soldiers who had been rejected for the battlefields because they were too short.

A visit to the Wellington Quarry Memorial costs €9. The visit takes two hours and for that time one walks along 350 m () of tunnels at the depth of 22 m (80 ft). If you suffer from claustrophobia, or you do not like the dark, or you have a small child or children with you, then I would not recommend that you go on this visit.

Something else is that it is compulsory to wear an army steel helmet, and believe me, those helmets are heavy and you may, as I did, get a nasty headache.

WW1 helmet as can be seen at WW1 exhibition (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

WW1 helmet as can be seen at WW1 exhibition (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Furthermore, the visits are guided because one can, and will, get lost down there in the tunnels. There are two visits in the morning and two in the afternoon, which means that you may have to wait around for a while until the next visit sets off.
The guides, like the bus drivers, know enough English to also repeat in English what they had said in French. I know that not all tourists like having a guide imposed on them, but here the guides do make a visit very interesting indeed with snippets of information about how soldiers had at times stayed down in the quarries for up to 10 days, and how unhygienic the sanitary arrangements were, the men having to use buckets for their needs and that the buckets were taken out and emptied just once in 24 hours – in the middle of the night so that the soldiers would not be fired at by the German.

The name Wellington was given to the quarries by the New Zealanders.

After this last war memorial visit you may well need some fresh air so it is not far to walk back to central Arras and then to sit down on the terrace of one of the very many cafés for a drink and some cream cakes.

Cakes in the window of an Arras bakery (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

Cakes in the window of an Arras bakery (cc Marilyn Z Tomlins)

Resisters shot here by the Germans in WW2 (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Resisters shot here by the Germans in WW2 (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Arras May 2015 Hotel les 3 Luppars

Some of Arras’ beautiful buildings (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

You may well think that staying over a night in Arras, maybe even two nights, will be better. If you do think so, go on to tripadvisor and find what I (mzt) wrote about a certain hotel in Arras. You will be very comfortable there indeed.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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Should you wish to contact me you can do so by email: marilyn@marilynztomlins.com