Saturday, September 16, 2006

Log 51 - World War I Battlefields, the Red Baron, Belgium and into the Netherlands.

 "The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that." - Norton Juster.

This log covers August 20th to September 8th, 2006. Over such a short time we do so much as we travel the canals north from Paris, France to Arnhem, Netherlands. So much history and beauty. What a privilege to experience this as a family. 

Picture of our actual map used to navigate France's canals. 
After a great 10 days in Paris, we are happy to be moving north once again.  We opt to stay on the Seine River to take us out of Paris heading towards Le Havre.  About 40 km outside Paris, we take the Oise River northwesterly and eventually onto the Canal du Nord, Canal du Centre and onto the Meuse River into the Netherlands via Maastricht.  Canal links are everywhere between the rivers, but we must choose wisely with our 1.6m sailboat draft. The yellow highlighter line eventually lands us in Arnhem, the hometown of Sheila’s cousin Marjol.

Sunday, August 20th – Compiègne and The Clearing of the Armistice.

The Clearing of the Armistice.
Our first stop heading north is Compiègne. Just northeast of the town of Compiègne is the Clearing of the Armistice, which today is a French national and war memorial in the Forest of Compiègne. It was the original headquarters of the invading German army in the Franco-German war of 1870-71 and was once again occupied by the Germans in World War 1. The memorial was built at the location where the Germans signed the Armistice of November 11th, 1918 that ended World War 1. During World War 2, Adolf Hitler chose the same spot for the French and Germans to sign the Armistice of June 22, 1940 after Germany won the Battle of France. The site was then destroyed by the Germans. Thankfully with many countries efforts, France was once again freed when World War 2 ended (1945) and the site was rebuilt as it stands today.  

Foch's reconstructed railway carriage. 
As stated above, the first Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, in Marshal Ferdinand Foch’s personal railway coach in this clearing just northeast of Compiègne. The coach was preserved as a monument, but on June 22, 1940, during World War 2, the Franco-German armistice was signed in it again, this time in Adolf Hitler’s presence, where Hitler is said to have sat in the seat Marshal Foch sat in when signing the Armistice of World War 1. The victors switched seats so to speak. The Armistice site was demolished on Hitler’s orders three days after the 1940 signing of the Armistice. The carriage was taken to Berlin as a trophy of war. Sadly it was destroyed in April 1945 to prevent its recovery by the advancing allies. After World War 2 the clearing site was restored by German POW laborers. On Armistice day 1950, a replacement carriage was re-dedicated. It was an identical one built in 1913 in the same batch as the original, which was also part of Foch’s private train.

Alsace-Lorraine Monument
The Alsace-Lorraine memorial, depicting a German Eagle impaled by a French sword. It all started when Alsace-Lorraine was the name given to the 5,067 sq mi (13,123 sq km) of territory that was surrendered by France to Germany in 1871 after the Franco-German war. The loss of Alsace-Lorraine was a major cause of anti-German feeling in France in the period from 1871 to 1914…the start of World War 1. Germany initially wanted Alsace-Lorraine to act as a buffer zone in the event of any future wars with France. In the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, the victorious powers (Great Britain, the United States, France, and other allied states) returned Alsace-Lorraine to France as one of the many imposed punitive provisions on defeated Germany

Statue of Marshal Foch.
As previously noted, the clearing where the Armistice’s were signed were destroyed, and all evidence of the site obliterated except this statue of Marshal Foch. Hitler intentionally ordered it to be left intact, so that it would be honouring only a wasteland. Today, The Clearing of the Armistice still proudly contains the statue of World War 1 French military leader and Allied supreme commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch. The Victor in the end.

This was an exceptional day of learning for us all. We were astonished to find out where and why Remembrance Day is observed to this day. The hostilities of World War 1 formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month", in accordance with the signed armistice. That truly is amazing.

Tuesday, August 22nd - s/v Tioga with s/v Dominix

Foggy morning on the canals.
For the past month or so we have been in touch with the Dutch family on s/v Dominix, whom we originally met back in Marmaris, Turkey. They have been making fast ground on us as they travel up the canals on route to the Netherlands. We have been hoping for a reunion and last night it came. The early morning fog makes for a cool picture of our boats tied to the dock awaiting to head out for the day as we plan to make some ground with them.

Beautiful art of a spider.
A spider was hard at work overnight building a web to catch its prey. Another great photo in the fog and the big French Panache barge boats we share the canals with.

Stuck in the mud certificate. 
We spend the day traveling with Carlo and Merima and their two young daughters from s/v Dominix. Unsure exactly how it happened, but s/v Dominix ends up getting stuck in the mud of the canal. Did they venture too close to the edge or is their draft deeper than ours. We end up tossing them a rope and we literally pull them out. Gerrit spends some time that afternoon making Carlo a “Stuck in the Mud” certificate, which he proudly presents that evening.

Wednesday, August 23rd - Stuck in the Mud favour returned :)

Steep walls inside some of the locks.
The locks are deep and can be tricky. As the boats lower, you literally walk your lines down the lock wall from bollard to the next lower bollard. In one of the locks, there is a bollard missing for us to lower our lines down to, resulting in our lines having to stay on the now high up bollard, thus being extended to their maximum length. Our long lines allow TIOGA’s bow to swing way out in the lock rather than staying secured to the side of the lock. Joel quickly grabs a pole and tries to fend TIOGA off from hitting the other side of the lock. Oddly the pole collapses and he falls into the turbulent lock water. Sheila jumps from the helm and leans down to grab his hand as it comes up in the murky water. Thankfully, Carlo speaks French and quickly calls the lock keeper when he sees Joel has fallen. The turbulence stops, Joel is rescued, and an unexpected favour is returned. Thank you Carlo!

12:53 pm: From Peronne to Arleux via Canal du Nord and Ruyaulcourt Tunnel

Tunnel Ruyaulcourt 
We continue pushing north for the Belgium border with s/v Dominix via the Canal du Nord. Tunnel Ruyaulcourt is the last underground tunnel of our trip. Initially dug around 1908 – 1914, the World Wars interrupted the work until 1959. Finally in 1965 the tunnel was completed and put to use. We sit tied to the wall with s/v Dominix waiting our turn to enter the tunnel.

1 kilometer into a 4.5 km tunnel. 

Mid tunnel stop. 
The tunnel is around 4.5 km long with a 1 km passing point in the middle. The headroom is 3.7 meters so tons of room plus it is nicely lit making the transit super easy. We stop in the middle for some photo opts and to let traffic going the other direction to pass before continuing along to the end which took about an hour.

Douane Belge = Belgian Customs

Belgium Customs prior to European Union (EU).
Whoo Hoo we are officially in Belgium. Back in the day before the European Union, this would have been an official check into the county location. Thanks to a united Europe, we keep on cruising up the Canal du Centre towards Mons where we plan to leave Tioga for a quick inland trip to some war memorial sites. This is where we say see you soon to s/v Dominix as they continue their push for home.

Sunday, August 27th - Tanks in Town - Commemorating the Liberation of Mons.

Central Plaza of Mons

Once again, the timing gods are on our side and we arrive in Mons for the huge celebration of their liberation. On September 2nd, 1944. Mons was the first major city in Belgium territory to be liberated by the American 3rd Armored Division. The rest of the county was liberated within the next few days and this significant event is commemorated annually across the country.

Thankful citizens of Belgium. 

Tanks in Town :)
The celebration is known as Tanks in Town and it is apparently the only commemoration of its kind in the world. A procession of World War 2 tanks and military vehicles follow the tracks of the American armored convoy that drove through the city at the end of the war. The Belgian people are clearly thankful to this day.


Monday, August 28th - Road Trip to World War 1 Memorial Sites.

Canadian National Historic Site - Vimy Ridge Memorial

With TIOGA safe and sound in Mons, we are on the road again for our last get-away in a rental car.  There are more than 7,000 Canadians buried in the 30 Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries within a 20-kilometer radius of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. We plan to make a bit of a loop and take in some of these war memorials, starting with Vimy Ridge. 

Canadian National Vimy Memorial. 

In 1922, the French government granted use of the 117 hectare site for the Memorial and battlefield dedicated to the people of Canada “freely and for all time.” The memorial stands on Hill 145, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Strategic view regained by Canadian's in 1917.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a World War 1 battle fought in 1917 near Arras in northern France. From the fall of 1914 until 1917 the German army held this eight-kilometer-long ridge. As we stand and gaze out, we immediately see the strategic value of commanding this ridge. The German army could see the Allied trenches for miles in all directions. Several times the Allies tried to take it from the Germans without success. Finally on April 9, 1917 they attacked again. Four divisions of the Canadian Corps attacked three divisions of the German 6th Army defending the ridge. The Battle was won by the Canadians on Easter Monday, 1917.

Canada's coming of age.
Said to be Canada’s “coming of age”, as our nation was born on the backs of the soldiers at Vimy Ridge. It was the first time Canadians fought for King and country as a distinct national army, with all four divisions of the Canadian Corps entering battle together. 

Memorial forest scars. 
To this day, Memorial Forest surrounds the monument. We notice that it looks quite strange with lumps and bumps all about. We are shocked to learn those are scars from bombardments that occurred on this site during the battle for Vimy Ridge in 1917 as well as failed military maneuvers before and after the Canadians took the ridge in April of that year. When work began on the site in 1922, it took two and a half years to remove most of the dangerous unexploded bombs, shells, and undiscovered bodies. Even today we were not permitted to walk in the trees because it was impossible to remove everything, and dangers exist to this day.

Natural lawn mowers with Twin Pylons memorial in distance. 
A fun fact in all this solemnness. Since 2001, a herd of up to 400 sheep have been used to maintain large areas of the battlefield terrain surrounding the Vimy Memorial. Their gentle grazing minimizes impact on this delicate resource while keeping vegetation short enough for visitors to view. Who knew? 

Tunnels being reconstructed. 
The trenches were long, narrow ditches dug into the ground in a zigzagged pattern to prevent an enemy shooting straight down the length of an invaded trench and to limit the destruction of falling ordnance.

The trenches were muddy, wet, and rat-infested during the war. Today parts have been reinforced with concrete to be preserved for tourists.

Canadian and German trenches at Vimy Ridge were only about 45 metres apart – so close soldiers could hear each other on quiet nights. In fact, it is said there was even a Christmas Truce where German and Canadian troops came out of the trenches and were quite friendly. 

Tunnel at Vimy Ridge. 
Vimy Ridge has become famous for its tunnels, which are one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the war. During the first two years of the war, British and French engineers dug numerous tunnels at Vimy. This was particularly important as the German troops who held the ridge were able to see every above-ground movement that their opponent made. The tunnels had two purposes. They were used as underground protection for the Canadian soldiers as they moved to and from the frontline, and they were also used for the placing of huge underground mines beneath the German trenches above. 

Maple leaf carved in tunnel. 
It was interesting to us to see a maple leaf carved in the walls of the tunnels. The maple leaf on our Canadian flag was not official until January of 1965. The soldiers passing time carving the maple leaf in the Vimy tunnels in the early 1900’s must have had an intuition that the leaf would become a recognized symbol of Canada as well as a symbol of unity, tolerance, and peace. Truly Canadian.

Mother Canada.
This famous Vimy Ridge statue is named “Canada Bereft,” but is more widely known as Mother Canada. She looks out over the landscape of the Douai Plain, mourning her fallen sons. Its inscription reads: "To the valour of their countrymen in the Great War and in memory of their sixty thousand dead, this monument is raised by the people of Canada."

There are 11,285 names carved into the monument, all Canadians who died during the Great War but who have no known resting place and were posted as "missing...presumed dead" in France. 

The memorial took ten years to complete and was finally unveiled on July 26, 1936 before a crowd of more than 100,000 spectators.


We leave Vimy Ridge feeling profoundly altered. Even though it is located in France, the land belongs to Canada, Canadians fought hard for it and we must forever be thankful and proud.

Cabarett-Rouge British Cemetery in Souchez, France

Next, it is a short drive down the road to visit the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Seeing the white crosses row on row within the beautifully manicured lawns is a sight more people in the world need to experience. The land has been gifted to Canada from France, and we wonder who keeps it so manicured? Apparently The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is currently responsible for the care of war dead at over 23,000 separate burial sites and the maintenance of more than 200 memorials worldwide. Their efforts keep the grounds impeccable. Thank you CWGC. 

Cabaret-Rouge cemetery 

At the request of the Royal Canadian Legion, the Canadian government became part of a project to create a tomb of the unknown soldier for Canada. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) was asked to select one of the 1,603 graves of unknown Canadians buried in the vicinity of Vimy Ridge. Grave 7, in Row E of Plot 8 of the Cabaret-Rouge cemetery was chosen as it was near the memorial at Vimy Ridge, the site of the first major battle where all four Canadian divisions fought together as a combined force. 

This soldier now lies in rest in Ottawa.
The remains of the soldier were exhumed on the morning of May 16, 2000 and the coffin was flown to Ottawa on May 25th. The unknown soldier lay in state for three days in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill. On the afternoon of May 28th the soldier was transported to the National War Memorial where the body, in a silver maple casket was reinterred in a sarcophagus in front of the war memorial. A handful of soil from each of Canada’s provinces and territories was placed on the casket before the tomb was sealed. The tomb is intended to honour the +-116,000 Canadians who died in combat in the World Wars plus those who have died or may die in all conflicts around the world past, present, and future. 

The Pozieres Memorial to the Missing - 1918 Somme Battlefields, France

Pozieres Memorial

Tombstones as far as you can see...shocking.
Our last stop of the day is Pozieres Memorial, which commemorates the names of 14,655 casualties of the United Kingdom and 300 of the South African Forces. These casualties died on the Somme Battlefield from the dates of March 21st, 1918 and August 7th, 1918 inclusive. 

Honouring Australian divisions involved in the war. 

We spend the night in the small village of Pozieres. Apparently the Australian 1st, 2nd and 4th divisions were hugely involved in the battle for the village of Pozieres. The high ground at Pozieres was an essential advantage, and a place from which further attacks could be launched. The village is clearly very thankful to the Australian's today. 

Tuesday, August 29th - World War 1 Memorials continued.

Thiepval Memorial

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing - Somme Battlefields
The weather is cool and raining in the morning when we visit the Thiepval memorial, which serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial. It was designed as an arch representing the alliance of Britain and France in the Somme 1916 offensive against the German defensive front, with the British Union Jack flying on the northern side and the French Tricolore flying on the southern side. The 72,194 names of the men missing in action on the battlefield for the Somme are inscribed on 64 huge stone panels, which form each of the four faces of a total of 16 piers (vertical loadbearing support) for the building. 

Joel and Gerrit walk through the piers.

The Stone o Remembrance.
The Stone of Remembrance, also known as the War Stone, is a feature at most Commonwealth military cemeteries and memorials. It is at the heart of the Thiepval Memorial and in the center point of the arch. When ceremonies are held at the memorial, wreaths are laid here. Clearly we just missed a ceremony of some sort. 

Anglo-French cemetery. 
A cemetery with equal numbers of French and Commonwealth graves has been laid out at the foot of the Thiepval Memorial. The cemetery represents the shared sacrifices of these two nations in World War 1 from 1914-1918. 

Canadian National Historic Site - Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial

Second of two National Historic sites outside Canada.
Our final war memorial is the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, the second of only two National Historic Sites of Canada that are outside the country, the first being the Vimy Ridge Memorial visited yesterday. 

Early on July 1, 1916, after the first wave of Allied soldiers were obliterated when they went over the top of their trenches into no man’s land, the commanders decided to press on. At 9;15 am the Newfoundlanders were ordered to attack from their trench behind the front line. Weighed down by backpacks weighing 30 kgs they had to move across this open ground in full view of German machine guns and artillery trying to reach their mark of attack represented by what the soldiers called; The Danger Tree. 

Danger Tree replica in the far distance of this open ground battlefield.

The soldiers of the First Newfoundland Regiment were slaughtered in an attack lasting less than 30 minutes. The losses were devastating. Of approximately 800 soldiers who fought that day, only 68 were able to answer roll call following the battle. The regiment suffered 710 casualties -- 386 wounded and 324 who were killed, died of their wounds, or missing and presumed dead. To this day July 1st  represents Canada Day to the rest of the country, but it is Memorial Day in Newfoundland, an official day of remembrance. 

Bronze Caribou standing watch. 
The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial stands as an important symbol of remembrance and a lasting tribute to all Newfoundlanders who served during the First World War. At the heart of the memorial stands a great bronze caribou (the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment). Its defiant gaze forever fixed towards its former foe, the caribou stands watch over rolling fields that still lay claim to many men with no known final resting place.

Manfred von Richthofen (1892/5/2-1918/4/21) aka the Red Baron

Marker where the Red Baron drew his final breath.
The last stop on our jam packed war memorial tour is to the site where Manfred von Richthofen aka the Red Baron is said to have landed his plane for the last time. Back when the boys Uncle Mark visited us in Turkey, he brought them numerous recorded VHS tapes of documentary channels and such. One tape happened to have a show on the Red Baron and all the controversy of who actually got claim to taking him down. Having watched the show numerous times, we had to search out this spot just a two minute drive from Vaux sur Somme. 

Richthofen was an ace German fighter pilot in World War I credited with 80 air combat victories.

On April 21, 1918 the Red Baron's final flight took place as he swooped low in pursuit of an enemy fighter. He came under attack from Australian machine gunners on the ground and a plane piloted by Canadian ace Arthur Roy Brown. The Baron was able to land his plane in this field despite being struck in the torso by a bullet causing wounds to his chest and lungs. Almost as soon as witnesses arrived the Baron tried to speak and then forever fell silent.

Canadian ace Arthur Roy Brown got official credit for the victory, but debate continues today over whether he or the Australian infantrymen fired the fatal shot. 

From here it is back to TIOGA to head north again.

Wednesday, August 30th - The Strepy-Thieu Boat Lift - An Engineering Wonder

TIOGA tied to the side waiting our turn. 
Still traveling north via the Canal du Centre, we had heard about this lift being along our route. Put into service in the early 2000's the funicular lift is one of the most beautiful technological feats of modern Belgian civil engineering.

We are shocked by it's size and slightly nervous about the entry and lift. 

Safely tied off inside the lift. 
Once inside we secure TIOGA and get ready for the lift.

Massive lift up. 
This structure of titanic dimensions has a height difference of 73.15 meters (240 ft) between the upstream and downstream reaches, making it the largest boat lift in Europe.  

TIOGA tied beside a bit bigger boat :)

By now we have taken TIOGA through a ton of locks. Hundreds and hundreds in fact as we worked our way up and down the European countryside. This is without a doubt the easiest way to gain a lot of meters up. 

View back of the Canal du Centre but 73 meters higher. 
The view out from the top looking back at where we just came from is impressive.  We drive out and continue on our way happy to be a lot higher with very little effort. 

Thursday, August 31 - Trouble on the canal.

Oddly we have heard of sections along this part of the canal where certain people are known to either throw rocks or hit golf balls at passing boats. We also got the tip to have a cap gun on board to fire at these hooligans' to hopefully deter them. They don't know whether the gun is fake or real as apparently some of the regular boats transiting the canal are more menacing and don't mess around with these troublemakers. We personally never have any encounters so we catch a great picture of Joel as he tests our piece of defense. What a smokin' gun. 

Sunday, September 3rd - Welcome to The Netherlands (Holland)

Meuse or Maas...much larger and more traffic.
We are now onto the Meuse River (English pronunciation) aka The Maas (Dutch pronunciation). It is a major European river rising in France and flowing north through Belgium and the Netherlands before draining into the North Sea. It is much wider with larger working vessels to deal with. 

Late in the afternoon we cross the Belgian border and arrive in Maastricht, said to be the Netherlands' most European city. It has been called the hand that the Netherlands stretches out to the rest of Europe as it sits at the bottom of the very southern tip of the Netherlands, right on the border with Belgium and a 30 minute drive to the German border. 

Where exactly did I leave my bike? 
The number of bikes is out of this world! Why such an obvious difference from where we have traveled so far in Europe? Apparently, it was an actual plan. The Dutch began this obsession in the early 1970's in the hopes of moving away from a car centric approach to safer and more liveable cities. From three years old to ninety three years old, everyone is on a bike and thus bicycles have since become synonymous with Dutch culture.

Green light for us on a Maastricht street. 

There are three key road uses in the Netherlands, often with a designated space on the road. There is space for the cars, space for the bicycles and another space for the pedestrians. It wasn't always like this and sadly in 1971, 400 children were killed that year with casualties reaching a high of 3300. The people of the Netherlands began to protest for bicycle lanes as a safer mode of transport. After much discussion the politicians of the Netherlands agreed to construct the first of the many thousands and thousands of bicycle paths today. They even have red and green lights for safety. 

Super cool ride. 

Wednesday, September 6th - Back on the road...water...whatever.  Heading north!

Enjoying the travel.
After a couple days of down time exploring Maastricht, we are back on the water. Just outside of the city, the Maas (Meuse) River is unnavigable so we are onto the Julianna Canal, named after Queen Julianna of the Netherlands. It is a 36 km stretch providing bypass of the unnavigable section between Maastricht and Maasbracht.

The weather is fine and the travel comfortable. No fetch from the seas on the waterways. Arnhem is in our sights. 

Flat, flat bike trails. Easy going. 

Though we are excited to get to Arnhem, we always take the time to get out and about. Today is a great bike ride through the quintessential countryside. The boys give this friendly ol' fellow some grass. 

So typical Dutch. 

This picture shows a typical spot we often spend the nights while underway. No sense paying to stay in a marina when these facilities are available. TIOGA nicely secure to the side wall and even a picnic table to enjoy a lovely supper. 

Thursday, September 7th - A day of travel with the big boys.  

Constantly on the watch for these large, fast moving vessels.

First Windmills - Windmolen in Dutch. 

Thursday, September 8th - Final left and rights up the canals to land us in Arnhem.

Mass-Waal Canal entrance.
We continue up the Meuse (Maas) River and have to take a connecting canal to get us onto the Waal River. The 13.5km (8.4mi) Maas-Waal Canal connects the two rivers. 

Large shipping container. 

Once onto the Waal River we are really into the big traffic. The Waal is the Rhine River coming north out of Germany and it is a major shipping waterway. All eyes on deck watching for traffic and signals from the ships as to their intent. We must travel the 20+ km against the natural flow of the water so it is slow going with TIOGA's engine at maximum throttle to make way. 

Boats coming at us from every direction. 

Sheila and her cousin Marjol, Joel, Sebastiaan and Gerrit.
Finally we make it to the Geldersche-Ijsaal connecting canal to get us another 20km north and onto the Nederrijn River. Arnhem lies on the right bank of the Nederrijn and we take an offshoot into a marina in Arnhem. 

What a fantastic welcome we receive - it feels a bit like home. Thank you Marjol and her son, Sebastiaan, for meeting us on the dock. They live just a short bike ride down the street. We haven't seen them since they visited us in Turkey back in fall 2005. We are all looking forward to spending time together. Super cool. 

Well that is finally a wrap of Log 51.  I think it is the longest log yet as we did so much in such a short time frame. Join us in Log 52 for some Dutch family fun, the amazing city of Amsterdam and getting TIOGA's mast back up.