Day 3: Lille to Arras

On the road to Lens

A 35-minute drive brings us to the former coal mining town of Lens, hit hard by WWI. We’ve come to see Louvre-Lens (External link) , an outpost of Paris’s famed Louvre museum, built in part to help this town suffering from high unemployment when the mines closed.

Vimy ridge

In semi-darkness, in the tunnels that stretch under Vimy Ridge, thinking of the soldiers, some as young as 14, waiting shoulder to shoulder for up to 36 hours for the call to attack on April 9, 1917, it’s hard not to shed a private tear. After WWI, they didn’t allow the front lines to be so close again. It’s hard to kill people you can chat with.

The battle is considered an important success, but victory comes at a cost with many lives lost.
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial still conserves part of the battlefield. The memorial towers over the surrounding countryside. We take out our Canada flag, carried across the Atlantic Ocean, and unfurl with pride.

Lichfield Crater and Zivy Crater in Thélus and Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery

So close to Vimy Ridge, these cemeteries contain the remains of many Canadians—with a maple leaf on their tombstone. We see brothers buried side-by-side, and many graves known only onto God.

Ring of remembrance

At the ‘Ring of Remembrance’ at the Memorial Notre-Dame-de-Lorette near Arras, we find the names of our heroes, Katherine Maud Macdonald and Roderick MacDonald, among the 580,000 listed in alphabetical order without any distinction between rank or nationality, former enemies and friends side by side. The memorial pays tribute to soldiers who fell in the Nord and in the Pas-de-Calais between 1914-18, and you grasp just how many died, as the ring of names stretches and stretches into the distance. The nearby medieval, cosmopolitan city of Arras, once home to some of the fiercest fighting of the war, today is a beauty rebuilt around grand cobbled plazas. We stay the night at Hôtel Particulier, a former mansion and former school of nursing now turned into a small boutique hotel. From our second-floor windows we have a terrific view over the property’s garden, open to guests to enjoy a countryside oasis in the middle of the city. My daughters love the modern room, posting snaps on Instagram, and the hot chocolate served with breakfast!

Leah's journal

I woke up to have lovely breakfast. Then we went to Louvre Lens. It was great. I love greek mythology so the greek statue was a real treat. Also the paintings were AWESOME, especially ‘cause the tour guide that showed us the paintings showed us around town. Then we had lunch. Then we drove to Vimy Ridge where we met Pascal who showed us around. Also a Parks Canada lady showed us some trenches and tunnels. She talked about World War 1 at Vimy, it was sad. Then I saw the big Vimy Monument, it was beautiful. Then Pascal showed us some graveyards. Then I ate super it was fun because it was relaxing time to spend with my family. Overall Vimy is breathtaking!

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