Driving over to Mrs FTF parents in Lodz is now an annual Summer adventure. This year the bigger two flew to Poland with their grandfather and that left us three to do the road trip.
There were four stops, Lille, Luxembourg, Stuttgart and Berlin in as many nights. This cuts the daily miles and with Zooby we thought it best to spare him the marathon runs. It was also easier to find rooms because booking for parents and three children is harder than you’d expect.
We got an apartment in Lille. Drove off the Chunnel train at dusk and headed towards Lille, having to come off at an early junction to put on the light deflectors. I walked Zooby across a farmer’s field while Mrs FTF sorted out the stickers. After that it was plain sailing to Lille. We arrived within an hour and after some zig zagging we found our place.
The landlord led us up three flights of steps into a newly refurbished flat, fully furnished with ingredients for tea! Once settled in, we took off for the town centre. It was a short 15mins walk and with attractive shop fronts it was a stop and go activity. Zooby was in his buggy but did some steps and some arms with both parents.
The town square, Place du General De Gaulle, is big and leads to a tiny crepe shop, Crepes de la Vielle Bourse where we decided if they are serving it for dinner, we are eating it for dinner. So we had savouries for our main meals and shared a sweet for desert. Zooby was a charmer for the waitress and made himself at home, walking in and out, unto the sidewalk and back.
The walk back to the flat was longer as we took another route and went down a street full of lively bars and dance clubs. That night there was a football match in the town and the atmosphere was vibrant. Zooby was in his buggy and took it all in although it was almost 11pm by the time we got back. Thankfully the apartment had shutters on the windows over the street which helped reduced the noise and light so we had an okay sleep.
By 7am I was up and watched the street come alive as it seems work in offices start from 8am. I got down to the nearby supermarket to pick up breakfast stuff and trailed back past the apartment to a corner bakery we spotted the night before.
10am and we were on the road. The breakfast was excellent with the fresh croissants standing out above the coffee and eggs. We left Lille thinking it was the place we would like to visit again with the full family and plan some shopping.
We drove south to the Somme region. On one documentary I saw an impressive war memorial and although not sure what was its name, I was determined to find it. We first went to Warlencourt British War Cemetery, it was small and very well maintained like all the many cemeteries in the area.
It was a superb setting with gorgeous weather and when we spotted a photo of two soldiers from Australia that was recently placed there, it drove home how much of a sacrifice these people and their families made.
We met a group of Brits at Warlencourt who directed us to my quest, Thiepval. Turns out they were headed that way but we stayed back at Warlencourt for a bit and then found it as they described. Standing majestic on a hill out in farming country. It is huge. We were in the tow of a group of school children from Hertfordshire and listened as they got the ‘Show Respect While Here’ caution from the school guides.
I remembered in Trinidad there is the family name on the WW1 cenotaph in Port of Spain and figured I should ask if there is a record of that person. Turns out the records are well organised and within a few minutes I had a printout of the grave’s location (cemetery, row, letter) and other information about him. He was 21. He was in the era of my great grandfather and possibly close relative because the name is rare. Mrs FTF saw my nervousness and I was unable to say why I was. We were about to visit the final resting place of someone I never knew but it felt momentous.
The drive from Thiepval to Ecoivres was peppered with graveyards similar to our first one. Small and well maintained and at times sitting adjacent to each other. There were few villages that did not have a war cemetery curating at least 500 graves. In total there were 1.7 million casualities. It took some getting used to. We stopped shortly at the Canadian Newfoundland Memorial, had a quick look around the centre but thought it best to press on to Ecoivres as we had a trip to Luxembourg later that afternoon.
By this time the skies had opened and the rain caught us just outside Arras. The cemetery was a green luscious lawn carpeted with marble grave stones in neat ordered rows. It was October and the flowers were still bright and fresh but there was no escaping this was a lonely corner of France.
I have no idea which members of his family will have visited here. Any trip to this area still takes some doing. In the early 20th Century that was a long journey from Trinidad to France. I did not have anything to place on the tombstone but took my time with the photos even though the rain decided to come down full pelt.
I expected some emotion to come forward but had no idea what it will be when faced with the fact of a tombstone signalling a burial, the end of a life. When we found the grave, I was overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness and how remote this place was. How far away from home. How abrupt.
The rains persisted, determined to chase us out of there. I made a skull note to come again, bring Big Son and Mella Mae. The car was a sombre mood for a bit as we set off. The drive to Luxembourg soon covering regular routes we have travelled together in the last few years. Seeing the turn off to Ciney reminded of my sister’s wedding we attended there last year. Time.