Remembers - 2002
By Ian Rice
Day 3 Conclusion
5th April 2002 - Day 4
Our last breakfast in Amiens and then on to the coach for the trip home. Some of the group were very quiet having only returned to the hotel shortly before our departure after their booze-cruise of last night.
We headed slowly towards the coast, avoiding the autoroute and taking the smaller roads through the French countryside. However, before we boarded the ferry we had one more visit to make, at Étaples, near Le Touquet, on the Channel coast. We parked the coach across the road from the cemetery that we entered through the usual gateway. Before us again was the usual stone altar and behind this the ground fell away to the cemetery itself. As we approached the low retaining wall nothing had prepared us for the sight before us. We thought we had seen large cemeteries on the Somme battlefield but they were dwarfed almost into insignificance when compared with the endless rows of gravestones that lay below us now. Thousands upon thousands ranged away from us on all sides. Étaples had been the site of a base hospital to which serious casualties were evacuated so it is natural that it would have a large graveyard given the nature of the wounds and the level of medical treatment at the time. Also it had been bombed on several occasions by the German air force. In fact several of the graves were those of female nurses. Although they would not have held military rank at the time they were buried among the officers.
One of the reasons for our stop at this cemetery was to pay our respects to yet another Marple man, Norman Sharples. Poor Norman was at the hospital, almost recovered from a foot injury, when on 20th May 1918 it was again raided by the German air force. He was severely wounded in the raid and died soon after.
Wandering around the graves I came across something for which I had searched in vain so far, stones bearing the cap badges of cavalry regiments. Here in a short row were men from several horsed units including the Royal Scots Greys and the Household Cavalry. Unfortunately the stones do not record where they had been wounded or from what they had died.
Our stop at Étaples meant that we no longer had time to make the planned stop at a French hypermarket so that we could buy some wine to take home with us. I want it clearly recorded that I hold Andy and Pete solely responsible for ruining my trip to France, the only reason for which was to buy some cheap wine and beers – only joking.
Finally we definitely were on our way home and headed for the ferry terminal at Calais where we arrived yet again a quarter of an hour after our boat had departed. This meant a wait of over an hour and a half on the dockside. Some of us went in search of food but we were sadly disappointed. Following large, clear signs we arrived at a spot where we had every hope of getting sustenance. I was called upon to use my dubious command of the French language to ask where the restaurant was. It wasn't! In fact the only food on the whole dockside was a dispenser from which we eventually got bars of chocolate and bags of crisps – not the best examples of the famed French cuisine.
However, we eventually boarded our ferry and left the coast of France behind. In a repeat of the outward journey it was first to the bar, then to the cafeteria. The food on this trip was diabolical, as was the service. A barely edible plate of lukewarm fish and chips was eventually thrust at me after I'd had to go in search of someone to serve it. As we had missed the hypermarket trip I explored the ship's boutique for bargains and gifts. I ended up with a litre each of whisky, gin and brandy and some chocolates for my wife. By the time all this had been accomplished we were docking in Dover where we cleared passport and custom controls in a remarkably short time.
The remainder of our journey passed without incident. We stopped a couple of times on the motorway for refreshments and also to reunite Ray with his wife. A short time before 22.00 we were back at our starting point outside the cinema. It had been only four days previously that we had been there, but it seemed much longer. In that time we had seen and learned much and made several new friends. Already there was talk of next year's trip, this time to the Ypres region. Time will tell.
Day 3 Conclusion