After 2 days in the hotel in Arras, it’s time to pack the gear and head to Valenciennes. This will be our longest ride. The guide says it will be 80 km with 529 m of climbing. This is also the hottest day yet, so I hate to think what the final total will be! I do know that because of the long distance and that the final dinner will be this evening, stops will be short – if not just roll-throughs.
However, the day does not start well. At the morning briefing, Matt answers the question that several people have been asking – “Why are all of the Magic Places crew wearing masks?” Seems that a number of them have tested positive to Covid19. So, in an abundance of caution, all of them are wearing masks. ALso, there will be special precautions whenever there is contact between riders and crew and, very disappointingly, the Magic Places crew will not be joining us for the dinner that night.
Our first stop shortly after leaving Arras is at Monchy-Le-Preux were a Newfoundland Regiment caribou stands above a German strongpoint gazing proudly toward Infantry Hill. There, a handful of gallant Newfoundlanders held off massive German counterattacks on April 14, 1917.
Shortly after leaving the majestic caribou, we arrive at the Windmill Cemetery. This is the final resting place for 402 Commonwealth soldiers after the Second Battle of the Scarpe on 23 April 1916. It is also the resting place for a fellow rider Mike Clarry’s uncle. Mike Brought along a box of items that had been in his father’s closet for years and were finally given to Mike.
Following the breakthrough success at the Battle of Amiens in August 1918, Allied Command sought to press the advantage and penetrate a new axis of attack. As they had in Amiens, the Canadians would take on the role of the spearhead of the attack. The offensive, which became known to the Canadians as the Battle of the Scarpe (1918) was part of the larger Allied Second Battle of the Somme. On 26 August, the attack was launched with the Canadians in the centre of the attack front, moving eastward along the axis of the Arras-Cambrai Road. While the assault was successful, their arrival at the Drocourt–Quéant Line, part of the Hindenburg Line, significantly slowed them down. However, the Canadians pushed on to the Canal du Nord.
Battle of Canal du Nord
Unfortunately, the Canal du Nord was a roll through site. There was nowhere to stop. For a military engineer, this was definitely disappointing.
The Battle of Canal du Nord, part of the Hundred Days Offensive, occurred along an incomplete portion of the Canal du Nord and on the outskirts of Cambrai between 27 September and 1 October 1918. To prevent the Germans from sending reinforcements, the assault along the Canal du Nord was part of a sequence of Allied attacks at along the Western Front. The Canal du Nord defensive system was the Germans’ last major prepared defensive position and was a substantial obstacle. At 5:20 on the morning of 27 September, all four Canadian Divisions attacked under total darkness, taking the German defenders by total surprise. Surprise was also achieved by the Canadian Engineers who had constructed wooded bridges to deploy over the flooded portions of the canal that weren’t well defended.
Following the success at the Canal du Nord, the Canadian Corps was tasked with the capture of the high ground at Bourlon Wood. Following the commemorative service and laying of a wreath at the memorial, it was time for lunch. Following the visit to the memorial, we made a quick stop at the Bourlon Wood Canadian War Cemetery.
The next stop was our hotel for the night for the Team DInner in Valenciennes. Actual distance travelled today was 82.7 km with 572 m of climbing.
The Royal Hainault and the Team Dinner
As we rolled into the courtyard of the hotel, we are all somewhat stunned (my editorialization based on the comments as we pull in) by the grandeur of the hotel. Originally built in 1774 as a hospital of the city and region, the Royal Hainault has been transformed into a magnificent hotel.
After getting settled into the room and taking a walk around the hotel, it was time for dinner.
It was a wonderful dinner and the setting was spectacular, although the group was small due to COVID concerns. The keynote speaker was VAdm Mark Norman. Definitely the punctuation mark for the ride.
Honour the Fallen, Help the Living