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Relic hunting on the Somme, Ypres and Normandy - 2014

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posted on Oct, 11 2014 @ 11:23 AM
I’d like to share with you all a little journey I've just returned from.

It was a spontaneous last minute decision – purely prompted by work telling me ‘’you’ve been working crazy lately, take a couple of weeks off’’

So I did the unthinkable, booked a return airfare to Paris with Malaysia Airlines (yes, I like to live on the edge)

I’d been to Europe a few times already but it was normally a backpacker’s city viewing type trip.
Nope, the time was right to do the trip I’d always wanted to do. A RELIC HUNT!

So I bought a 6 pack of Johnny Walker and Cola, pulled out the credit card and booked my entire trip one Friday evening.

Come with me on this little adventure!

Paris is Paris, everyone knows Paris so I wont bother with that part.. accept for one thing, the Military Museum. I could not go on a War Tour without visiting the Military Museum in Paris!

I landed myself in Amiens, rented a car (having never driven in a foreign country before) and headed for the SOMME!

I’d booked myself in for 3 nights at a bed and breakfast that was on the front lines of the SOMME in a town called Mailly Maillet.
For some perspective here’s a map with the black arrow pointing to this location in regards to the WW1 front lines.

The Kiwi’s fought some great battles here and it was a hard fought over cross roads, north of Albert and East of Amiens.

The first morning I woke up at 5am, grabbed my camera and walked. I walked for hours, through the farm paddocks, empty area’s..
It was foggy, the sun was just rising and it was quiet. I had with me some books from home, these books were peoples written accounts of their time on the Somme. I sat and read a few chapters thinking, what they're talking about happened right around me... it was peaceful, yet, chilling!

Then gunfire shattered the silence.... dozens of shots rang out.. it startled me at first until in the distance i saw some hunters. I turned my back to them and looked off into the distance, listening to gun shots for about 20minutes. I couldn't have asked for anything better, staring out at the Somme, hearing gunfire in the fog of the morning. It really brought home just where I was...

I stayed there for about an hour, the sun rose and I took off into the paddocks.

I didn't ask permission, I never saw a person.. I just walked, for hours..

from about 7am through to 3pm I walked.. I kept my eyes open hoping for a miracle... that I would find relics from the GREAT WAR!

It only took about 20minutes until my prayers were answered in so many ways..

a fence post, assuming it was holding barbwire or trench walls

some sort of spring..

some sort of barrel, not to sure but it’s about an inch across and has a wide lipped end

no idea..

no idea..

shrapnel.. i'd like to say, shrapnel was everywhere. jagged rusted iron a couple of inches long. I often wondered if this hit anyone and who fired it.. I found so much of it, I stopped picking it up!

a crater

an artillery shell base

what I think might be an English grenade fragment

a complete pillbox and a destroyed pillbox

and.. a bone. Who knows where or what this belonged too animal or man - it gave me a bit of a realization that this isn't just a field of iron and shrapnel but there would be bodies and bones probably under the very dirt I was walking on.

Time to move onto the local townships where I'd read you could find trenches that had been preserved.
I wandered into a small town called Engle Belmer and wasn't disappointed

I even found an old vehicle from the day being transported to a local museum.

I got there just in time, it was a beauty!

I relaxed in Albert one afternoon and got into a conversation with a man at the bar, a local.
He told me out in the woods behind one of the cemeteries next to the train line there were trenches in the woods off the beaten track. If I was willing, to take a look! he pointed it out on the map for me, hesitant, i took off!

I knew the cemetery he talked of, and found the unmistakable split tree he mentioned and after walking for about 15 minutes through the bush

I did come across some trenches.. I felt a little uneasy being in an area that was obviously not commonly walked over, so I didn’t go any further

There was evidence of the battles all over the place, craters, trenches.. I was amazed how much history had been preserved in 100yrs

One thing I wanted to see, specifically was Lochnagar Crater!

Admittedly, this wasn't as big as I thought, but keeping in mind this was the largest explosion the world had seen at its time and apparently was heard in London.

If you've seen the youtube movie above, then I want you to pause at this next photo.
This is looking back in the direction of where the camera was filming from.
Imagine if you will, being a German, staring at this same hilly landscape.. then.. it was over. You wouldn't have even had time to process the noise.. This colour photo would have been eerily similar to the last thing some Germans ever saw..

After spending a few days exploring all the museums, land marks and sites and completing my book of Somme memoirs, I felt it time to move on, oh word for the wise.. Obey the signs!

to the Somme, I thankyou

to the men who never came home, lest we forget.

I packed up my hire car and headed off, for Belgium - YPRES!

edit on am1129318112014-10-11T11:29:52-05:00112014p by Agit8dChop because: (no reason given)

edit on am1152318112014-10-11T11:52:53-05:00112014p by Agit8dChop because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 11 2014 @ 11:39 AM
a reply to: Agit8dChop

Outstanding, thanks for the adventure eye view. Expecially wandering off the beaten path.

posted on Oct, 11 2014 @ 11:55 AM
Thanks for sharing.
I envy you!

posted on Oct, 11 2014 @ 11:57 AM
Finding those relics brought the events of the day into reality I am sure.

I am fascinated by WWI as my grandfather fought at the Battle of Ypres. He didn't die thankfully, otherwise I wouldn't be here, but he suffered with shell shock and died prematurely in his early fifties.

I am definitely going to go on a battlefield tour, but have yet to decide if I am going to go on an organised tour, or go independently like yourself.

Thanks for sharing.

edit on 11/10/14 by Cobaltic1978 because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 11 2014 @ 12:10 PM
Driving from Somme to Ypres took around 2hrs. This was pretty good considering I didn’t have a map book, GPS or the internet and I was relying on hand written notes I'd scribbled from the internet at my hotel. Having never driven on the opposite side of the road (I'm from NZ) or on the other side of the car (seriously who uses the left hand side) it was a struggle.
First up - apologies to the red 4wd owner at the roundabout near the Belgium/France Border. I trust you also saw your life flash before your eyes. I will remember to look left, instead of right!

Ypres, beautiful Ypres. Ypres was a beautiful little city and it was refreshing to speak and meet some Belgium folk, unfortunately the French didn't give me as much as smile, I suppose being a single 30'yr old male with a backpack didn’t look too appealing for them.

I managed to book myself into a beautiful manor on Menin Road, Ypres.
For those who don’t know, Menin Road, the Ridge and Hell Fire Corner were significant battles of WW1
By luck, I managed to find myself staying in a hotel on that very road.

For some perspective, X marks the spot of my hotel. As you can see, there's literally nothing left.

In the backyard of the hotel, they preserved everything. The trenches, everything that was left scattered around was preserved. Anything dug up was kept! It was a relic hunters dream.

Where on the Somme you had to look, at Ypres you had to make sure you didn’t trip over

I climbed down into the trenches and spent some time looking over the top, through the barbwire at the forest behind me.. Something about the barbwire gave me chills.

The trenches were crude, you were warned not to dig and that entering the site was at your own risk

Ypres, I love Ypres! The cloth hall, the town. It’s amazing, Winston Churchill said of Ypres: 'A more sacred place for the British race does not exist'

When I walked the fields of Passchendaele, Menin Road, hell Fire Corner and read the plaques, saw the graves.. I understood. The British fought and died here more than anywhere against another nation’s greatest threat.

I walked up and down Menin Road the 3 days I was in Ypres, from my hotel into town and back.

I'd seen the photos of men walking aimlessly into the abyss and every time i turned around and looked, I saw... society.. shops, cars, houses... what did they see? Barron muddy fields, smoke, death and the unknown..

I sat at Hellfire corner and dived back into my book of WW1 memoirs.. reading stories of how the British hung hessian sheets up to hide the movements on troops. Reason being, the Germans were looking down on this road from every angle and shooting at any movement.. It was considered the most dangerous road in the world.

I spent my last night in the great town of Ypres, Having walked through the Somme and now Ypres and Passchendaele.. I wanted to reflect and relax. The great cloth hall provided me with a superb view for my evening meal

Every night at the Menin Gate the army plays the last stand at precisely 8pm. Every, single, night!
Huge crowds gather and listen in awe. The Gate itself is a memorial to all the men who never came home and are buried out in the mud of Ypres.

This picture sums it up for me perfectly, (which is why I purchase a copy)
at 8pm, the band plays the last stand. Its dark.. its eerie.. I like to think all the spirits and souls hear the music and know which direction is home. To me, this picture is the most heartfelt response I could fathom for the war and the lost ones. Lads, I hope you hear the music and find your way home.

To Ypres, Thank you for your hospitality and your history! To the men who never came home - lest we forget

The next morning I packed my car and said goodbye to WW1, next WW2.
edit on pm1211318112014-10-11T12:11:51-05:00122014p by Agit8dChop because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 11 2014 @ 12:58 PM
Being in Belgium, I knew I couldn’t leave without a quick stop to Dunkirk!

I figured, This was the point that WW2 seemed to be at its worst. The French were over run, the Belgium were lost, the British were defeated and the Nazi's seemed unstoppable on their way to Paris.

Dunkirk, was where WW2 became a fight for survival.

Now, I love Winston Churchill, he's the last great man of our age I believe. I love his speeches I can listen to them for hours.. It felt fitting, sitting on the beaches of Dunkirk, listening to his great speech over and over and over..

I found myself a nice piece of land in the scrub over looking the beach

we shall fight on the beaches,

we shall fight on the landing grounds,

we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,

we shall fight in the hills;

we shall never surrender!

Sadly, I didn’t get much time in Dunkirk but I was able to walk up and down the beach for about 2hrs...There was little there to remind you of those fateful days, only what I’d read and seen in the history books!

Next stop NORMANDY!

I was fortunate enough to have booked out 4 nights in a hotel on Gold Beach, Arromanches!

The view from my room was spectacular, Mulberry, Mulberries everywhere!

For those not aware, Mulberries were the artificial harbor the British made - the knew taking Cherbourg or any of the channel ports would be a big fight, instead - they made a harbor and towed it across the channel and built it like a lego set behind in the invasion. There was some question as to the actual advantage of this as the Americans at Omaha without an artificial harbor managed to offload more supplies, still it was a major engineering success!

If anyone ever visits this part of the world I strongly suggest you visit the 360o Cinema in Arromanches. It’s by far the best museum/movie piece I've ever seen!

If your lucky enough, you can even get yourself a nice seat on the Sherman tank over looking Normandy.

I left Arromanches and took off for the hills.. I wanted to see the cliffs, the beaches I wanted to see Normandy.

Not content with using the roads, I found a track worn into the country side, to me this was Normandy!

I walked for hours

every now and then I would come across some rusted metal, some barbwire..

Nothing significant..

I found a small path leading down the cliff onto the waters edge into a small cove. I was probably 3-4kms into my trek.

I climbed down and found myself at the sea wall

In thongs, shorts and my headphones in.. I took on the challenge.. I didn't climb back to the top of the cliff.. I followed the sea wall... all be it a bit dangerously..

I couldn't believe it, this was Normandy.. men and materials landed here... there's probably relics just under the dirt and the rocks..

I started finding things..

rusted metal

pieces of boat

there was crap everywhere..

Unfortunately for me, the tide was coming in and I was stranded.. I had to bail on my sea wall trek and make it to high ground.

No more messing about, I wasn't here for Gold Beach or rock climbing.. I was here for Omaha.

10yrs of traveling.. 15yrs of interest.. I finally got to Omaha BEACH!

It was busy, busier than I expected and busier than I hoped. I had these thoughts id be on my own out here and i could just walk in the water

I was amazed, people used this beach like any other.. take their kids for lessons, throw the ball for the dog..

If I had this beach at my door step, I’d feel uneasy here..

I suppose its a bit hypocritical to say, but I did take of my shirt and go for a swim... I swam out far, dived down and grabbed a fist full of sand.. then watched it dissolve in my fingers..

I stared back at the beach... bobbing up and down in the waters on Omaha beach thinking.. is this what the soldiers saw when they abandoned their Higgins boats.. I swam for the shore as fast as I could until my feet could reach the sand.. then I ran as fast as I could through the water, onto the beach and up onto the dirt..

I started at the hills above and the scenery..
'' how can such a peaceful beach have been the landing point for D-day..''

but now.. id seen the view of the allies, I wanted the view of the Germans.

It seemed difficult to get to the top of the hills where the machine gun nests would have been.. I had to walk all the way to the beach side town then track my way through some open land and back to the beach.

I had to jump some fences and run through some scary looking bushes.. but I found myself plump where the Nazi's were.
Staring down at the beach.
I had the same vantage point they did..

I walked for a few more hours back to Arromanches at the top of the hills/cliffs.. I found along the war some barbwire, cartridges and a pill box that had seemingly been forgotten.

And of course... craters!
Point du hoc was a major target for allied ships and you can see the effort they put into destroying these guns

On my last day, I headed west, to St Mere Eglise.
I'd been here before and I was a big fan of Band of Brothers.

I felt this was a great place to end my 10day journey

at the break of dawn in St Mere Eglise.. sadly, there were no paratroopers falling from the sky..

But it didn't matter!

Now I'm home, I feel some what.. lost.

I've been to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl, Auschwitz, Berchtesgaden, Normandy, Ypres and now the Somme.

Where too next...

If your still here!
thanks for reading.. I hope you found something you liked!

edit on pm100318112014-10-11T13:00:45-05:00012014p by Agit8dChop because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 11 2014 @ 01:21 PM
thread of the year, well done. S&F.

posted on Oct, 11 2014 @ 02:25 PM
Nicely presented! Your description certainly seemed like a solo trek into a soldier's perspective. However did you get to meet and talk to the people about the resistance hideouts? I know that there were some underground bunkers where some lucky villagers hid out.

edit on 11-10-2014 by aboutface because: oops

posted on Oct, 11 2014 @ 06:39 PM
Great thread.

Why not get fit, really fit, and walk the Kokada Trail.

It was the one that MacArthur said couldn't be taken.

The Aussies proved him wrong.

S&F for a great read.


posted on Oct, 11 2014 @ 08:40 PM
Heck of an adventure!

Thanks for sharing and letting me vicariously explore the place

posted on Oct, 11 2014 @ 09:43 PM
Wow, I mean really, WOW!

I honestly have never found much interest in war, (frankly it disgusts me), but seeing your pictures, and your story brought tears to my eyes. The picture of the "last view" before the explosion, I stared at it for minutes with a pit in my stomach.

I wish I could give you more flags and stars...

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