We had pre-booked a hire car from our next port, Rouen, to drive to the Somme area to visit Villers-Bretonneux and the Australian memorials there and at Le Hamel – about a two hour drive each way. We were all literally drop jawed when the man in the car hire office said he didn’t have a car despite the booking being made months ago! As we stood outside trying to work out options, a tiny (really tiny) car was returned by another customer. The four of us crammed into it and off we went.
The day was clear and warm – the memorials beautifully kept and appropriately sombre for the many there paying their respects. One last little clump of poppies was still blooming at Le Hamel. The new Sir John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux is set into the ground behind the memorial and not visible at all from the front. It is beautifully constructed, featuring a wall of different Australian timbers in the foyer. The display and the audio-visual exhibits are very well done. Impressive but sad places, the waste and personal toll of war in those thousands of immaculately kept graves a terrible reminder to us all.
Meanwhile beside the memorials, life goes on – farmers were busy with the harvest …..
The trip through the French countryside on a beautiful day was lovely and we only got ourselves lost once, driving a considerable way in the wrong direction beside the River Somme – but it was a a beautiful valley to be lost in!