22 people boarded the coach last Thursday for the trip to France. At Dover we encountered our only delay on the whole trip, 2 hours waiting because the ferries were delayed due to the previous days weather. We arrived at Cambrai in good order with no drama's at the hotel. Everyone got the type of room they were expecting, so no top and tailing. Friday morning began with Breakfast which included egg, sausage and cooked meat for Brit traditionalists with the typical continental fare as well.
We set off in bright sunshine and arrived at the Tank Corps Memorial at Pozieres where we laid a wreath. Pozieres is classed as the Somme, you forget how close together these WWI battlefields are. We also took time to look at the Australian memorial across the road, very thought provoking. Not quite as thought provoking as the Pozieres Military Cemetary. Those rows of white headtones always bring a lump to your throat. We then went to the "Tommy" cafe and museum in Pozieres where we had lunch, purely liquid for the younger element, no surprise there then!
We then moved off and made our way to the Battle of Cambrai Memorial at Louverval where the drumhead service was taking place. Here was the first major event of the weekend, The Regiment was present, the Standards of 1 & 2 RTR were paraded and laid on the drum alter. The Ypres Friends of the Tank Salient Standard was laid on the alter as was the Bournemouth & Poole Branch Standard, magnificently paraded by Graham Collins. No other Association Branch Standard was present, which was a surprise!
The Ceremony was very moving and was filmed by the BBC and broadcast around the world. We then made our way back to Cambrai and the hotel, getting ourselves ready for the "all ranks" party that evening. The weather had remained bright and Sunny all day. The All Ranks Party? What a night? A live band, the Pipes & Drums, A WWI tank in the venue, lots of beer, the serving lads (allowed in Jeans and T-shirts) had a fantastic time, as did we all. I met up with a number of lads who had served with my son (who left the Army earlier this year) who all wanted to buy me a beer, age I have decided does have some advantages!
Saturday began with the Battle of Cambrai presentation by historian & TV presenter Dan Snow, followed by the Battlefield Tour in Coaches. We had the medium tour which meant only getting off the coach once, which turned out to be a good choice as it was very cold and wet. The one stop off was the Monument to the Nations that took part in the Battle, this was at Flesquieres. On the way back we passed the new Museum housing "Deborah"( the WWI Tank destroyed at Cambrai, found and dug up 80 years later) but it was awaiting the official opening. Saturday night was the RTR Association function, but before we went to that, off we trooped to the Town Square where the story of Cambrai in WWI was told, The Story was projected onto the Town Hall Building with the narritive in Both French & English. Lots of people dressed up in WWI costumes, with a very big turnout by the local population. This feature was presented every night for a week.
The RTRA function was brilliant, so many people that I had not seen in years, well organised, a good bar so what more could you ask for. There was food but I think many were too busy to partake, Dave Roberts & Graham Collins caused a slight delay when it came to leave? They were in the queue for Fish and Chips at the take away wagon.
Sunday had the weather we had been hoping for, clear and bright, it was cold but most importantly it was "dry". We arrived in good time which allowed us to have a coffee in a cafe before we took our places in the stand. The parade consisted of the Regiment, veterans, French Troops from our affiliated Regiment and French Veterans. The Regimental Standards were on parade as were the Association standards, plus many French Association Standards. The Band played the French national anthem superbly which resulted in loud applause from the local population who also applauded the British National Anthem. The speeches, both in French and English went on forever! both sides complimenting the other and saying how good each was, It was a real political "love in". Finally we had the march past with lots of clapping and cheering and suddenly it was over! Following the parade many veterans then remained to boost the economy of Cambrai if you know what I mean, some had tickets for the Mayor of Cambrai's reception where they "hob nobbed" with dignitaries and senior officers. Eleven of us from Bournemouth & Poole joined up with the London Branch and headed over the border into Belgium and Ypres, where we participated in the "Last post" ceremony. 4 x RTRA branch standards were on parade along with the Ypres Tank Salient Standard. We then returned to Cambrai and bed.
So Monday and the return to the UK, but after leaving our Hotel we headed for the Arras area and the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge, impressive is an understatement, we were hampered by very wet and windy weather, but because we are "British" remained staunch, steady & undaunted and paid our respects to our Canadian brothers, Then! We ran for the coach to get out of the rain!
We then continued to Calais, stocked up with "goodies" from the Carrefore hypermarket and boarded the ferry. What an experience, there will only be one Battle of Cambrai "centenary" and it was done in style. The photo shows our coach sign, well you have to let people know who you are?