43 serving and ex Metropolitan Police Officers and friends departed from Bushey Police club at 7am on the Morning of Thursday 22 October 2015.
Our destination Arras in Northern France, the town at the epicentre of Great War Activity 1914-18. After a successful crossing of the channel with no hold-ups, our first destination was the tragic, French memorial of the Notre Dame de Lorette and the new 2014 International memorial. The weather was beautiful (Through our tour) and the views magnificent. From there we went to the beautiful British Cemetery of Cabaret Rouge and then onto the German cemetery with it’s 48,000 graves at Neuville St Vaast on our way into Arras. Everyone agreed that the Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery was by far, the most beautiful and evocative. Lovingly tendered and kept perfect, by the skilled gardeners of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Our Hotel was the friendly Moderne with ample space for large groups, warm rooms and a well stocked bar. The evening at Arras passed with some frivolity and laughter following dinner at the Passe-Temps Bar – within easy crawling distance from our hotel.
Friday 23 October was spent on the 1915 Battlefield of Loos exactly 100 years after that tragic action during which the British Army lost 59,000 men – many of whom were ‘Kitchener’ volunteers. An investigation by renowned Detective, Professor John Grieve CBE QPM was held at the graveside of 18 year old John Kipling as to whether it could be ‘Him or not.’ A memorable day which included the coach being taken to the top of the famous double crassier at Loos from which there were spectacular views.
Saturday 24th October saw the Hampstead Pals travelling to Ypres and a visit to Ploegstreet Wood and the legendary site of the Christmas 1914 truce and to the delight of the many football fans among us, a visit to the new Footballers memorial at Prowse Point which was met with some mirth and mixed feelings. Lunch was at De Dreve café at Polygon Wood and then on to Hooge Crater cemetery which lies on the Menin Road and an excellent ‘Rugby Footballers’ presenation by John and Jan Buoy. An afternoon was spent in exploring the bars and shops of Ypres, dinner at Den Anker before the 8pm Ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at which our British Legion standard bearer Howard French represented the Hampstead Pals and wreaths were laid during the ceremony by John and Jan Buoy and Jean Latham in memory of grandfathers who were lost during the Great War. A rather noisy journey back to Arras followed with night caps in the Hotel bar.
Sunday 25 October was our ‘big’ day on this tour with the 600 year anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. The day was led by our historian Professor, John Grieve CBE and we arrived at the little village of Agincourt in brilliant sunshine. Not a cloud in the sky as we donned English flags as cloaks (apart from one grumpy Scot who wore the St Andrew’s cross) and advance into the village behind our mad accordion player, Ian Woledge, much to the delight and applause of the French locals. About 1000 people turned up for the event, mainly French and we were surprised that the French had not made any catering arrangements in the form of a beer tent or hog roast. A fortune was simply waiting to be made. But then again they lost. The speeches were far too long and the French VIP’s dressed in their Sunday best, went on and on. Professor Anne Curry apologised profusely to the French for King Harry’s pure aggression shown towards them (she was booed – much mirth) A more politically correct speech was never heard before. Shakespeare was lambasted and left us thinking that we had actually lost the battle of Agincourt. Nevertheless a brilliant day which will stay in the memory for ever!
Monday 26 October – we went home..
“Just a line to thank you all for yet again another super trip, it was really great . I know that I sometimes drop off to sleep on the coach but I must have “nodded” off at Agincourt because I missed the demonstration of white flag waving by the French army! A great time, and thank you all for your contributions and company. I look forward to the next trip.”
Major John Hickie MBE
A photo record of the tour with photography by Marilyn Taylor can be found at Taylor Made Imagery.