Europe 2008 (Caen to Amiens) Day 21 – June 14

15 06 2008

Today was much less packed than yesterday.  It was great to see all the stuff yesterday but there’s just soooo much of it!

We left our little place in Caen at around 0915 and kicked on down the highway toward Dieppe.  More tolls.  More driving at 125kph!  W00t!   We made good time on the road and we were close to Dieppe when Mrs D spotted the sign for the Canadian cemetery.  Perfect.  We wound our way through a few small roads following the nice clear signs and found the cemetery tucked away pretty much next to a bunch of farm fields.  Parking consisted of a small bulge in the small road to pull over.  Room for maybe 2 cars max.  Obviously not a "must see" on the usual tourist itinerary.

The cemetery has 944 graves of which 700 are Canadian.  We saw New Zealand, British and Polish graves there as well.  A large proportion of the Canadian graves were dated August 19, 1942.  It was heart wrenching for me to see a line of 20+ graves all with the exact same date.  August 19, the date of the disaster that was the raid on Dieppe. 

The cemetery is unique among Commonwealth cemeteries.  The graves are placed head-to-head instead of the usual head-to-toe format.  The reason for this is that these soldiers were buried by the Germans.  When you don’t actually take the land, you don’t get to reclaim your dead.  The (still) occupying Germans buried the soldiers and marked whichever graves they could.  There were many unnamed soldiers, "Known Unto God".  There were groupings of three stones together and it didn’t take long to realize that they were all members of the same flight crew of a plane that had been shot down.  From the closeness of the stones I imagine they didn’t dig separate graves for them.  The harsh realities of war. :(   When the allies retook Dieppe in 1944 they didn’t disturb the graves, but simply re-marked the graves with the now well recognizable white granite markers.  The cemetery is beautiful, quiet and unfortunately under-visited.  If you are a Canadian and are anywhere near Dieppe – take the time to go and visit.  Register in the guest registry.  These soldiers were some of the most unfortunate pawns in a war planned and plotted from across the channel.  The Canadians didn’t have a chance.  Go by.  Visit.  Remember.

We moved on from the cemetery to the actual town of Dieppe.  The town was abuzz with activity.  It was certainly not a small town.  It has a population of 35,000 now.  It was Saturday and there was a Fish Market going on as well as a general open air market with people selling their various wares, food, trinkets etc.  People were thick in the market, out on a nice sunny day shopping.  We drove around and found the Tourist Info centre but there was no way we were going to be able to park there.  The fish market was set up right in front of the front door.  We had to drive about 6 blocks away before we found parking over near the beach On the positive side: parking was free.

The tourist info people were most helpful.  The lady had a map of the town and on it she marked where the Memorial building and the "Canada Square" were as well as the location of various monuments that were along the beach where so many died.  We worked our way out and decided that given where we parked, we could make a large loop that ended at the vehicle.

To get to the Canadian memorial we had to work our way through the market.  About 3 blocks of almost back to back people buying, selling and generally living a busy Saturday afternoon. We made it through the market and the first thing we found was "rue du 19 Aout, 1942"  A small road named after the events of that fateful day. Along the road at the Eglise St. Remy there was a small memorial against the church wall that said simply

"Ici le 19 Aout 1942

Sont tombes

deux soldats Canadiens"

The location where it was placed made me feel that it was quite likely that these soldiers may have been executed. I don’t know, and I can’t find any further information on the Internet. If you know anything about this memorial, I’d love to hear it.

A block away we came across the Dieppe-Canada Memorial building. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be open until 1400 on Saturdays, and we were going to be heading out of town before then. It seemed that almost everywhere in Dieppe that you went if there was a French Flag flying, there would be a Canadian one nearby.  You really understand that they were so strongly affected by these events of the war that they make a point of ensuring that they will always remember.. (more on that in a bit) In North America, too many seem to let these events slip away šŸ˜¦

Past the memorial and in the shadow of the Chateau de Dieppe was Canada Square.  A lovely green space with a large Canada Flag crafted from red and white flowers.  The white ones seemed to be in transition while we were visiting, but the red of the maple leaf and its bars were distinct and drew your attention.  There is a monument in the square which lists the ties that Dieppe has had with Canada going back to the early Catholic missionaries that came from there and were, unfortunately, killed by the algonquins back in the 1600’s  Our history with Dieppe is long and bloody.  The square was well laid out and quite respectful.

We headed out toward the car via the beach.  Along the beach were 3 different memorials to the different regiments that landed at Dieppe and were slaughtered.  It was strange to be standing at a monument looking out on the beach and up at the cliffs where the German guns had been.  You could almost hear the screams of soldiers as they were pinned on the beach trying not to die more than trying to take a town.  After that, you turn around and there are sailboats on the water,  kids playing on the rocky beach, lovers making out leaning against the very seawall that that gave little shelter to soldiers 66 years earlier,  and a stage crew setting up for a show that night.  It was strange to see people going about their lives on the beach as if nothing happened. You wanted to scream to them, "Don’t you know a thousand people died here?!?!"  But they do.  They remember. They care.  But they have to live their lives and move forward, while remembering.  When someone from outside comes in, full of "remembrance" we don’t understand that they’ve lived with this for 60 years.  They can’t spend every moment of their lives visibly remembering. 

We finished our walk along the beach and stopped for a lunch at one of the beachside stands.  Mrs D had a hotdog (which is a wiener stuffed into a baguette) while I had a "Croque Monsieur". I had seen them for sale throughout France and decided it was high time I had one.  We ate in a nice little sheltered area and enjoyed our lunch.  Two thumbs up for the Croque Monsieur!  We seemed to finish at a good time.  As we were getting ready to leave the German chapter of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang was rolling in.  Nice guys, I’m sure.  I didn’t really want to hang out with them though – I was afraid I might cramp their style šŸ˜‰

We headed out to Amiens, our destination for the night.  More tolls, more driving. The warm sun and food, combined with the lack of sleep from the night before meant sleepy me.  Not exactly a winning combo when you’re whipping down the highway at 125.  We stopped at one of the many roadside rest stops and I napped for about 20 minutes about 45 minutes short of Amiens.  It would seem I was dead tired.  I almost passed out immediately.

We hit Amiens around 1600.  We passed the Holiday Inn Express a couple of times before we managed some strett parking so that I could go in and ask about where to park the car.   The public underground parking under the hotel was only 5 euros for 24 hours!  Sweet.

We settled into our room and tried to get worked out what I was going to do with the car in Calais the next day.  We had told Hertz that we were going to drop it at the Eurotunnel but that was 4km from where we wanted to be. Not so handy if you are carless.   I had to pay 20 euros for 24 hours but with that it meant that I got Skype up and going.  I was able to call Hertz international and they told me I’d have to call the local rental agent if I wanted to change anything.  I tried Hertz Amsterdam – no answer.  Next, I decided to try calling Hertz in Calais at the Eurotunnel site and determined that car to Ferry port was OK, despite what Hertz International had said when I was booking the vehicle on the phone back in Canada.  It seemed like a lot of work to get from Calais to Heathrow without a car so I asked the nice lady at Hertz Calais Eurotunnel what the cost of dropping the vehicle at Heathrow would be instead of Calais. 1200 EUROS!!!!  Apparently they really DON’T want their cars left on the other side :)  Foot passengers we would be then.

We walked down to the Quartier St. Leu of Amiens.  There are many nice restaurants next to the canal and they quite a variety of choices.  We chose one that really had a very nice combo of "french" cuisine seeing as this would be our last night in France.  We started a nice crepe-like pastry filled with mushrooms in a bechamel sauce and cheese – ficelle.  The main course was duck in a sauce which seemed to have a red wine hint in it. Very nice.  For dessert I had profiteroles an Mrs D had the Chocolate Tarte. We finished by sipping our little french coffee.  All this for 15.90 euros while sitting on the patio and enjoying the sites and sounds of Amiens.  The way the area was set up, you’d think you were in a little town of a few thousand rather than a population of 140,000.  Not only was the atmosphere great, the price was a pleasantly good deal for a change. 

We walked back to the hotel and made sure that all our stuff would fit in our bags and that we would be able to handle it all during the travel on foot the next day. With that complete, and eleven dollars of Skype credit to use up we called people around Canada and chatted with them for a while, burning up some of the left over minutes.

I blogged until 0100 to try to get caught up with all the crazy days that have been just wiping me out.



2 responses

14 02 2009
St. Blogwen

I came across your blog while searching for links for my own Europe travel postings on my blog. I’ll have to backtrack and read about the rest of your trip.

Mine’s from 1988-89. I’m sure a lot had changed between then and 2008.

Thanks for the croque monsieur link. I ordered one of those in a salon de the in Bourges and they served me a hot dog! Unfortunately, my French wasn’t good enough to challenge it, and I ate what I was given.

I visited Normandy in 1994. You’re right about the sobering effect that visiting the Allied cemeteries has on a person. But I, too, found that the French had not forgotten. The streets were festooned with British, Canadian, and American flags, and the walls plastered with signs saying “Merci” for what the Allies had accomplished 50 years before.

18 02 2009

Thanks for your comments. It really is amazing to see people remembering and caring after so long. While over here in North America people forget what happened last year in many cases.

I find my blog to be a great way to revisit my trip when I want to remember the details. It’s a little difficult to do when you’re travelling, but well worth it later to be able to look back and read and relive the experience!


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