By a Spring day,
By Picard clay.
Show me the two so closely bound
As we, by the wet bond of blood,
By friendship, blossoming from mud,
Two Fusiliers – Robert Graves
When I reached Odile Samain’s house in Bapaume the previous day, I’d been expecting to spend the night in a tent in her garden. It was a surprise therefore to be welcomed into her large house in the centre of town and be told that I could have a bed for the night.
After I’d unpacked my belongings and changed my clothes, I came downstairs to find that Mme Samain had kindly made me a coffee. It was clear that she wasn’t in the best of health – she struggled up from her chair when I came downstairs and then immediately collapsed back into it. After a fairly unsuccessful attempt at light conversation, silence descended on the drawing room like a blanket, Mme Samain turned on the TV and began watching a quiz show. This she proceeded to watch for much of the next hour while periodically mumbling answers to the quiz questions.
At around 6pm the front door bell sounded. Mme Samain struggled up from her chair and hobbled down the corridor. I heard the door being opened and something of a confused kerfuffle taking place. It sounded as though another pilgrim had arrived. But Mme Samain had assured me that I was the only person staying the night and that recently pilgrim visitors had been as rare as hen’s teeth. Hmm. The new arrival couldn’t be Dean from Seattle could it?
I poked my head round the door. Yes, it was indeed Dean from Seattle. It was good to see him and relieve the siege like atmosphere that had prevailed during the previous hour.
Since I had last seen him at Le Ferme des 2 Tilleuls in Amettes, Dean had acquired a sleeping bag. This was a good thing because it meant that he could also use one of the beds at Mme Samain’s rather than being thrown onto the street to search for alternative lodgings.
After Dean had unpacked, we headed off into Bapaume to find something to eat.
“When you come back, make sure you lock the door”, Mme Samain implored us. It was only 8pm, but it seemed as though she was about to head off to bed!
I caught up with Dean’s news over a Sis kebab and a couple of bottles of Efes beer at the ‘Kebab Bapaume’.
It transpired that Dean’s strategy of not booking ahead for accommodation had come something of a cropper since I’d last seen him.
Two days previously he’d found himself wandering through the suburbs of Arras at 9pm with nowhere to stay. Eventually he’d managed to flag down a passing car who’d given him a lift into Arras and help him find a bed for the night in the Ibis Hotel. Dean was also still regularly getting lost en route! I wondered whether we should walk together the next day to Péronne. It seemed like a charitable sort of thing to do even if it would reduce my time spent looking around British military cemeteries en route!
Across the street, the imposing statue of General Faldherbe (the saviour of Bapaume who had prevented the town and the entire Pas-de-Calais region from being seized by the Prussians in 1871) looked on in mute agreement. It was a done deal – I decided to walk to Peronne with Sean the following day.
We headed off from Mme Samain’s at around 9pm. Attempts the previous evening to arrange an early breakfast at 8am had been met with mild alarm by the owner. It seemed pointless to argue so we settled for 8.30am.
It was a day when not a huge amount of note happened! The weather was grey and overcast with a hint of rain in the air.
The landscape was pleasant but unremarkable and military cemeteries relatively thin on the ground considering the amount of bloodshed that occurred between Bapaume and Péronne during the Great War.
Pretty much everything between Bapaume and Péronne was destroyed during the Great War. In one village we passed a church that had clearly been reconstructed in a somewhat avant-garde style!
At another small village we came across an ice cream van! It was drizzling and the village appeared deserted so business wasn’t exactly booming. Time for a 99 Flake I thought to myself, but as I approached the van, it sped off like a scalded cat!
Eventually we neared Péronne and passed through the village of Bouchavesnes-Bergen. The original village of Bouchsvesnes was completely destroyed during the Great War and subsequently rebuilt by the town of Bergen in Norway.
After crossing a canal, we climbed the hill to the village of Mont St Quentin, scene of heavy fighting during the Great War.
Péronne has had a tough history. Burned and pillaged by the Norma s, badly damaged during the Spanish occupation, devastated by the Prussians in 1870 it was was almost entirely destroyed in 1917 and heavily bombed by the German airforce in 1940. Péronne has every reason to feel a bit sorry for itself!
The moated castle that overlooks the River Somme and dominates the town was originally built in the 10th century. Completely rebuilt, it now houses an impressive WW1 exhibition which is well worth a visit.
One of the exhibits that caught my eye on Sunday when I had visited the museum with Claude and Georges, was a British nurse’s unifm and operating tools which included a flute – presumably designed to distract and alleviate pain while a grisly operation was being performed without anaesthetic.
Our lodgings for night were the diocesenal offices in the centre of town which had a couple of beds for pilgrims. Ok it wasn’t the Ritz, but it had everything Dean and I needed for the evening including a hob ( for warming up a tin of cassoulet toulousain!) and an ancient looking microwave.
Just as we were about to sit down and cook our evening meal, a figure appeared at the window. It was Sylvain from the diocese office who had come to see that we were ok and had brought some wild autumn raspberries for us to enjoy. A nice gesture from a good samaritan and the perfect end to a somewhat knackering day!