This year’s tour – Leger’s All Quiet On The Western Front - began at the more civilised time of 7.30am, with a smaller party than usual – just myself and Mike Abbott - travelling to Belgium by train. For the first stint to London we enjoyed the first-class breakfast catering facilities of Virgin Trains. After sampling a brew at Kings Cross it was on to St. Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Lille. At Lille all of the Leger tour party who had travelled by Eurostar were transferred by minibus to the hotel in Mouscron, to join the rest of the group, who had travelled by the usual method of coach and Cross-Channel ferry. We arrived at the hotel late afternoon, and needless to say the coach and rest of the party had not! Later the coach arrived, and we met our tour guide Gary Ashley who turned out to be an excellent guide.
The second day was spent in Flanders, the first stop being Tyne Cot Cemetery. As it was early the cemetery was relatively quiet and peaceful, with just a contingent of the Australian and New Zealand forces rehearsing for the annual ANZAC commemorations to be held three days later - we were also to see them later in the day at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. Next stop was the very impressive Brooding Soldier memorial at Vancouver Corner and then onto Langemark German Cemetery with its imposing oak trees.
Lunch was at our old favourite stop, Hooge Crater Café, now with its extended Museum and small replica trench system at the rear looking down towards Ypres. After a short stop at the White Chateau it was on to Sanctuary Wood Museum to see original WW1 trenches, other relics and photos. Onto the battlefield around Hill 60, Caterpillar Crater and then into Ypres for our evening meal and attend the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial, which is held at 8pm each evening. Back to our hotel afterwards, after spending over 12 hours out in the field.
On the third day we travelled down to the Somme, the first stop being Devonshire Cemetery, which can’t be seen from the road and is hidden by trees up an embankment. It has 153 graves, all but two are from the Devonshire Regiment - only one of the 151 Devonshires buried here did not die on the first day of the Battle of Somme, July 1, 1916. Next we moved onto the excellent Historical de la Grande Guerre Museum in Peronne, with impressive displays and exhibits in the floor. Onto Delville Wood and the memorial to the South Africans, another impressive site covering a large area with the cemetery at one end, the memorial at the other and a museum behind.
Lunch was at the Ulster Tower, very close to the Thiepval Memorial. Looking out from the tower it was very plain to see the outlines of the trenches in the newly cultivated fields. Onto Newfoundland Memorial Park near to Beaumont Hamel, this memorial is to the Newfoundlanders who fought in WW1, with the majority having no known grave. The park covers a large area and the bottom end of the park is still inaccessible due to unexploded live ammunition and mines. Next stop the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing and its impressive new Somme Museum, then onto La Boisselle to see Lochnagar, the largest British mine crater surviving in the battlefields. Then back to the hotel having spent another long day in the battlefields.
Day four, and the previously-dreaded journey back home. We were travelling by train this time, and our departure time from the hotel was a very agreeable 1.20pm, while those travelling by coach and ferry had departed at 9.00am. After breakfast and with time to kill we had a quick look at what sleepy Mouscron had to offer and quickly realised… nothing much. Picked up on time, the minibus journey took just 20 minutes into the Lille Eurostar Terminal for a burger, beer, and board the train, arriving London St Pancras at 4pm. As we emerged from the Channel Tunnel round 3.30pm we could see all the Leger Silver Service coaches on the motorway… and they had set off at 9am.
After a beer in nearby Millers Crossing we departed King’s Cross at 5.15pm for the journey back to Driffield, again enjoying the first-class evening meal catering facilities of Virgin Trains. Back home approx. 10pm.
In summary, an excellent tour, excellent company, excellent travel arrangements. Can’t wait for the 2018 tour, also by Eurostar!