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A Weekend To Remember: Friday 9/11 - Saturday 10/11

When Howard suggested spending the centenary of the Armistice in France, I got on board immediately. We booked a budget hotel just outside Arras and caught an early ferry from Dover to Calais on Friday morning.

Our first stop was the Dunkirk museum, commemorating the battle and evacuation of 1940 and the aftermath for the city. My favourite thing was a letter written to the captain of a British ship sunk by a torpedo, who asked his officers to describe what had happened:

"Dear sir, There was a bloody great bang."

By a stroke of luck, I spotted this beautiful memorial to French ace Georges Guynemer close by.

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We took a country route through the flat but lovely landscape of Flanders to Arras, arriving at our hotel at dusk.

It's hard to believe there was an air museum in northern France I had not yet visited, but I had somehow missed the one in Albert until Saturday morning.

Situated on an industrial estate, it's the kind of delightful museum that crams the exhibits in wherever they'll fit and leaves you to explore, often by climbing a rickety ladder to peer into cockpits. There were two large hangars filled with planes and cars, several exhibits outside, and a third hangar with aviation memorabilia (Concorde pinball!) and, for some reason, antique washing-machines.

They had a Caravelle, that sweet little French airliner with the teardrop windows (as seen in A Very Secret Service), an East German MiG-21 and several examples of the Nord Noratlas twin-boom military transporter. I wandered round in a delighted daze, occasionally summoning Howard so I could explain things at him.

caravelle

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The museum closed for lunch at noon, and we made our way to Le Tommy in Pozières for sausage and chips. It was as crowded as you'd expect on the weekend of Remembrance Day, but we enjoyed quick, friendly service before moving on to The Tank of Flesquieres, which is, as the name suggests, a tank.

I learned that the tanks of A Battalion all had names starting with A, B Battalion with B and so on, and that one of the A tanks was called ARTFUL ALICE.

The tank on display, which took part in the Battle of Cambrai, is D Battalion's DEBORAH. Other D tanks included DON QUIXOTE and DRACULA, while the Fs boasted - wait for it - FRAY BENTOS.

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The centre of Arras, rebuilt after its destruction during the war, is crazy pretty. We visited the Boves, a system of underground passages and cellars dating back to the Middle Ages, went on the big wheel and had a pizza.

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Comments

I haven't been to Arras but I've been to Ypres- which was reduced to dust and rubble- and is now as good as new. It's amazing the dedication the Belgians put into restoring their razed towns.

Now why couldn't we have done the same with Coventry?
Yup, the Poles did it, too but not us.
Then there are the ghost villages, completely destroyed but still with a town sign and speed limit. That's spooky.
The museum closed for lunch at noon

Ha, ha! So French.