Thursday, September 22, 2016

Somme American Cemetery at Bony, Saint-Quentin Canal Tunnel, Peronne 21 September

From our hotel in Belgium we drove south into France., our next objective being the Hotel Memorial in Saint-Quentin. This was the one time when I've seen Richard and Pauline use a GPS system -- normally all navigation was done by Pauline with map in hand. But this particular leg of our journey would take us right into the centre ville of one of northern France's hilltop towns (we would visit another one, Laon the following day) so having someone "give" us directions saved a lot of time and frustration.

After settling in we walked the two blocks or so to central square and soon found a place for lunch: Le Maryland. And no, no one we spoke with knew the origin or meaning of the name. But the food was good and the service spot-on.

The four of us eventually made our way back to the car and off to the Somme American Cemetery at Bony. The cemetery is located along a backroad out in the middle of beautiful pastoral farmland. We seemed to be the only visitors.

The afternoon, like all of our days so far, was gorgeous: sunny and warm, just the right weather for spending quality time with the dead. Although also quite small with barely 1,844 graves, the cemetery was quite impressive. A very nice visitor center -- with WCs of course -- also provided a guide to the more sought-after graves (Medal of Honor winners, nurses, etc). The cemetery also has the distinction of holding the remains of the first American officer killed in the Great War: 1st Lieutenant Dr. William T. Simmons of Missouri, attached to Base Hospital 5, died on 17 September 1917.

In the chapel are inscribed the names of the 333 servicemen whose graves are unknown. Unfortunately the chapel was closed when we were there.

From the cemetery we drove several kilometers to the nearby Bellicourt Memorial. Built over the Saint-Quentin canal tunnel the memorial commemorates American units that fought alongside the British in September of 1918.

After leaving the Bellicourt Memorial we drove another few kilometers to one of the entrances to the Riqueval tunnel over the Saint-Quentin canal. While this was the scene of fighting by American units -- there is a memorial put up the state of Tennessee on the high ground near the entrance -- the canal and tunnel is still in operation today. In fact, there is a wonderful little museum dedicated to the chain boats that haul barges through the tunnel. (It takes a chain boat about 2.5 hours to haul a barge through the tunnel, if you must know.)

We learned that the tunnel, which is some 5,670 meters in length, was built by Napoleon 1810-1814. (Napoleon would figure semi-prominently the next day as well.)

Leaving the canal and that portion of the Somme battlefield we made our way to Peronne for a stroll around the centre ville and an aperitif.  (The city had suffered terribly under German occupation during the first world war.)  The tower of the church struck us all as rather unattractive but the city hall had a rather elegant clocktower that loomed over the main square.

We returned to Saint-Quentin and that evening ate a wonderful dinner at Chez Jean, a short 5-minute walk from our hotel.

the chapel

detail of four bronze helmets at the base of the flagpole

Grave of 1st Lieutenant Dr. William T. Simmons of Missouri, attached to Base Hospital 5. He died on 17 September 1917, and the first American officer to die in the Great War.

removing the old sod in between two rows of graves

Bellicourt Memorial


memorial dedicated by the State of Tennessee

looking up the canal from above the tunnel entrance

you get the idea here

view from the bridge above the canal (just a few kms up-canal from the tunnel)

plaque located near the Riqueval Bridge over the Saint-Quentin canal

central church in Peronne

Marie Foure, the heroine of Peronne in 1536 - the story is vague but the statue superb

town hall in Peronne

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