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The battle of Vimy Ridge was part of the Battle of Arras, and one of the best ways to learn about this history is to don a British army helmet and go 20 metres underground at the Wellington Quarries, La Carrière Wellington. In this former underground chalk quarry, 24,000 soldiers waited eight days to launch a surprise attack on the Germans that Easter weekend. Here, you can truly taste the life of the soldier, learning about the last Mass as troops prayed before going into battle, and hear bombs go off as you look up into the passage the men climbed before entering the fray. These former quarries were rediscovered with war in mind, and dug out mainly by New Zealand miners (hence the Wellington name) and Yorkshire miners. It was imperative to break the standstill on the front lines. The quarries got troops to the other side of No Man’s Land and saved thousands of lives. Under sun-drenched skies, we leave the WWI trail for a short detour: a tree climbing and zip-lining course at Accrobranche Cit-Loisirs in Arras Citadelle, just a five minute walk up the street. No one can believe over two hours have passed when I tell them we must leave soon for the 35 minute drive to Pozières in the Somme region.
In 10 minutes, we’re in the little town of Albert, which was just behind the lines on July 1, 1916, sitting on the patio at Restaurant La Basilique, enjoying a big Merlot, a gorgeous steak with pepper sauce and a Dame Blanche for dessert. As we eat, we see bagpipers in kilts in the square, playing in front of the Basilique de Notre-Dame de Brebières, which dominates the town.
When the church was built, people thought Albert was going to grow, but war interceded. Albert became famous for another reason. German shells hit the statue of the golden Virgin and child on top of the church in 1915, causing it to lean at a 90 degree angle. It was an iconic image one could see all over the battlefields. Soldiers attached legends to it, saying when the Virgin fell, the war would be over. They were close. It fell in Spring 1918.
We started off in an exciting way by visiting the Wellington quarry. We took a audio tour with our guide from yesterday, Pascal. We went deep into the quarry. It was cold but luckily dry. We learned how it was in the middle ages for building materials. When it was rediscovered they decide to use it in the war. We also saw here they had exited to fight. The audio made it feel like it was currently happening. We learned how so many young men had died and heard letters they had sent home. After the quarry, we went to memorial for pelots that were missing. All their names were written in the stone. Along with the quarry and memorial, we checked out the market and went up the Belfry, which is a tower in Arras. Finally we went ziplining. It was really cool! There were some ziplines that went over the lake.