For a people who are fiercely protective of their language, it always makes me smile that the French have accepted ‘le weekend’ to describe a short sojourn in France – which is precisely what I and a dozen of our friends have just done in a small town called Wambercourt. It was a weekend of much good food and good company and a chance to see a small part of France that I hadn’t visited before.
As always on these short breaks there were a few places and moments that you know will either stick in your memory long after the meals and after dinner chat have been forgotten or will have affected a response in you and these are the things I share with you now.
Le Blockhaus, Eperlecques
‘Let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance’ Proverbs 1:5
Some building just overwhelm you with their sheer size and structure; such was Le Blockhaus. Originally part of Nazi Germany’s plan to facilitate launching V2 rockets during World War II, it now stands as a reminder of the best of scientific discovery and the worst of war. Scientific knowledge that could have enabled travel out into space, turned to building missiles that instead of piercing the blackness of space in discovery would pierce the hearts of the unseen enemy
It’s cavernous, concrete shell built through the efforts of forced labour from nearby concentration camps, where prisoners: overworked, underfed and medically unfit, were transported daily to and fro in cattle trucks – some not taking the return journey as they had accidentally slipped into the concrete pouring moulds and were thus entombed forever as part of the structure. Why then should these monuments be allowed to remain?
A really good question, which the museum actually managed to answer very well – “If we cover over our mistakes, our children will go on to repeat those mistakes through lack of knowledge. By bringing our mistakes to their attention they will learn and never have to repeat them!”
It never actually got into full production, mainly due to the many bombing attempts to destroy the building – attempts which failed, except to make a slight indentation in the roof, but one of which succeeded in creating a huge bomb crater a few feet from the side of the bunker which set off an earthquake and thus made them query their own safety, sitting as they did on a large stock of liquid oxygen compression tanks!
Remembering in Wambercourt
Not too far away are the great memorials of Thiepval and Vimy Ridge and it’s hard to drive anywhere without coming across a beautifully maintained Commonwealth War Graves cemetery. In the more peaceful countryside of Wambercourt, reminders of war are not quite so obvious. Yet even here, as in most of Northern France, people’s lives are still touched by things of the past. The opening lines of Rupert Brooke’s poem ‘The Soldier‘ remind us of this fact, ‘If I should die, think only this of me; that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England‘
Within this small country church are the graves of three Allied airmen, Charles de Vic Halkett, James Harley Easton and Alec Victor Jacobs, who had set off from their airfield at Wattisham, Suffolk on the night of the 9th September 1940 and who didn’t make it back; but who now are still remembered in a well maintained and respected ‘corner of a foreign field‘
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:8
Yet life moves on and the peaceful countryside proved to be a wonderful place in which to wander on a mild, sunshiny Sunday morning walk. Climbing up high above the village, the view over the wooded valley was dotted with several similar spires of neighbouring churches. As in an English multi-benefice, not every one was open for worship, but it seems that people’s faith remains strong and obvious – not least in the presence of Christ on the Cross, hanging on a wall in a garden near to the bridge crossing…
… a reminder to us all to travel safely.