I had booked a ferry from Dunkirk for my return journey and on the way I planned to stop off at The Duhallow ADS Cemetery to visit the grave of my Great Uncle Robert. He was an acting corporal in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders when he was killed at Ypres on January 9th 1918.
It was a beautiful sunny day and I programmed the sat-nav to avoid the main routes and take me through the country roads across the NE of France and into Belgium. It was a sobering thought knowing that thousands had been killed in this beautiful, quiet, rural part of France and Belgium.
The War Graves are looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and they are immaculately maintained. Every gravestone has its own flowering plant or bush in addition to the memorials left by relations. The Duhallow Cemetery has around 1400 graves and I had past half a dozen on the way and there are around 20 in the area. I wasn’t sure how the visit would affect me but seeing hundreds of graves of soldiers, many just boys, and the senseless killing, really did make me feel humble and brought a tear or two to my eyes. Unlike my uncle - I made it home.
I had looked up the location of my Great Uncle’s plot before I left and it was easy to find. I spent a while wandering around the cemetery and chatting to the gardeners and maintenance people working there.
The ferry terminal was just a short drive from Ypres and I arrived in plenty of time to find the huge car-park practically empty. There were eight cars in the queue when I arrived and even when we were ready to board this had only increased to around 50. However, I am certain that it is impossibly busy at the height of the school holidays in England. I had about half an hour to wait before boarding and so I walked over to the terminal building in search of a café. The place was cavernous and completely deserted. To my disappointment there were no cafés or shops just a few vending machines. What an utterly depressing place. Considering the volume of traffic and the prices they charge surely the ferry companies could provide a bit more than this. I bought a vending machine coffee and a bottle of water and headed back to the car. At least there was free wireless internet available and I spent the time catching up on emails and messages.
With so few vehicles, boarding took very little time and I soon found a nice seat in the restaurant at the front of the ferry. I was still connected to the DFDS internet and was glad that I read the message they had sent me. Whilst connection was free in the terminal it could would have cost me around £10 for the duration if the crossing. I disconnected and went to get something to eat.
After my mediocre and expensive tea, I went for a walk around the deck to get some fresh air and stretch my legs. I had seen an older couple in the car-park doing some stretching exercises against their camper van and when I saw them on deck I started chatting to them. They were setting off on a tour of Britain in their van as due to Brexit it might be the last chance they would be able to do it in a relatively straightforward way.
The crossing was smooth and uneventful and again arriving at Calais with so few cars, getting off and on to my final destination was pretty quick. I had arranged to spend a few days with a good friend and his wife in Canterbury. Brandon and Lauren had recently moved there from Edinburgh, Lauren to take up a post in the Philosophy Department of at the University of Kent and Brandon a post in finance. I met them both through UkeHoot and we have become good friends.
I had a fantastic couple of days in their company in glorious weather.