Paris. Day Three. Villers-Bretonneux.

Out of Paris the fields are green, the skies are blue and the sun is bright. The streets are less crowded and people meander around their villages between cafes, patisserie and their houses.

Saturday was a slow day for us, whether because we didn't do as much as Friday or because the people around us weren't doing much either. Things are much slower out here, outside of the bustling metropolis that is Paris.

Our day started early, since we had a nine o'clock train to catch, but it didn't truly get underway until we got into our hire cars and discovered that the French drive on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately we had some knowledge of this beforehand, and we thus avoided hitting anything but the road. In saying that, there was at least one incident in the day where we had to tell dad to get back onto the right side of the road.

But no need to panic, just remember that you go around the roundabouts anti-clockwise rather than clockwise (which is a really weird feeling), and that the guy in the front right is the passenger so stop telling him how to drive. It felt a little weird, but we're about to hit the road in England so should be back to normal.

The main aim of the trip out of town was to visit the headstone of my Uncle's Great Uncle in one of the many war cemeteries scattered around this part of France. After all, and I probably should give you some context as to where we were, we had made our way to the Somme around the towns of Amiens and Albert. Google them if you like, but for those who can't be bothered, we were near where the battle lines of the infamous Western Front was drawn.

So our first stop was a small cemetery out of Amiens.

Small cemetery sure, but there are plenty of lives marked by simple headstones here.

Andrew Watson of the 16th Battalion.

After visiting the cemetery, we drove into Albert for lunch at the local patisserie as well as a look around town. Some of us found their way into the local museum, which involved walking through a world war two tunnel/shelter underneath the town, while others enjoyed their lunches outside the train station.

We passed by the below church while walking through the town and, although it was reconstructed after the first world war, it holds some fair historical significance, as does much of the region and nearby towns. For example, have you ever heard of the legend of the leaning virgin?

If not, here's a quick run down. During world war one, the town sustained heavy shelling and the church itself was completely destroyed during the war. In January 1915, the original statue on top of the church was damaged and began to lean. Word spread, and it was thought that "when the virgin falls, the war will end". Funnily enough, it fell in April 1918. A few months later the war would end in November.

The church as it stands today. The protestant church down the road stands in a building similar to the small shops around it.

After spending some time in Albert, we left to go to the famous Australian National Memorial near Villers-Bretonneux. Each year on ANZAC day, a ceremony is held here in memory of the Australian, New Zealand and Commonwealth soldiers who died in Europe during the first world war, as well as other wars.

The thousands of white slabs that are marked with the names of soldiers, and some as "known unto God", are a reminder of the futility of war. At the end of the memorial, near the tower and amidst the thousands of inscribed names of the dead, a sentence reads: "To the glory of God...". Crosses frequent the headstones, and a large cross with what looks like a bayonet inside of it stands in the middle of the memorial. One of the plaques at the memorial calls it a 'shrine', promoting that it is somehow sacred, or holy. But like the soldiers who are remembered here, this place is not sacred or holy.

(Warning, I may rant a little here).

However, often we elevate our dead soldiers to some kind of sacredness. This not only occurs in the construction of our 'shrines' dedicated to them but also through ceremonies. Our dawn services are filled with Christian hymns and a sort of atmosphere similar to an Good Friday service. It is certainly good to have Christian words in an increasingly secular society, but the effect is to align the dead with some kind of holiness. This also has the flip effect whereby the Christian worship of Jesus' sacrifice is shifted onto some kind of sacrifice made by mere men and women, who have died as part of stupid wars. Perhaps this sacrifice is worthy of praise, or honour, but the fact is their deaths and sacrifice are not sacred.

Nor are the dead soldiers themselves sacred. They are simply dead. This is not to say we should not remember them, or to say that their deaths were for nothing. It is to say that war is useless.

The headstones lead up to the main part of the memorial where a French and Australian flag each fly.

Taken out of one of the side buildings. There are two villages close to the memorial.

The view from the top of the tower.

Trying to find that name among the thousands listed.

The whole memorial is really well done, and these flags were pretty cool too.

After walking around the memorial, we went into the actual village of Villers-Bretonneux. The school here was destroyed in World War Two, along with most of the town, and is named Victoria in honour of schoolchildren from the Australian state who raised funds to have it rebuilt. When asked about it, my Grandma said she remembered some kind of appeal back when she was in school.

The whole town seems to have honoured this with pictures of kangaroos scattered around. We even spotted a sign pointing towards a "Koala Club". It was kind of nice to see that Australians have made an affect on the other side of the world, and to see things that remind you of home.

Afterwards we went back into Amiens and, after dropping off the cars, walked into a church - Notre-Dame d'Amiens - which someone told us was bigger than the Notre Dame in Paris. A quick Google search tells us that it is the 19th largest cathedral in the world, and the tallest completed one in France. Quite something then.

It was built in the thirteenth century when the town reached some sort of economic prosperity. Specifically, construction began in 1220 and ended around 1269, although the main towers were reconstructed in the sixteenth century after being destroyed by lightning.

The large hall is home to half a dozen statues representing some people you can give money to in exchange for candles - I think they were called saints. Along with this there were about five tombs of somewhat important people around the hall, some dating back to the twelve hundreds. Maybe bishops or something.

There are also a few paintings surrounded by gold (at least on the outside of the frames) representing scenes either of these said saints, or of the true hero, Jesus. Unfortunately, a lot more money seems to have been put into making the church's statues and paintings than to the poor of Amiens. To account for this there is a small money box for those in need at the side entrance.

Whether a waste of money or not, the church was certainly beautiful to walk around, and take pictures of.

We didn't go inside Notre Dame (the Paris one), so I can't comment on the difference in size with this church. However, I can say that it was pretty big.

Like I said on my article about the Arc De Triomphe, the detail on these kind of things is incredible. This has a similar outside design to Notre Dame, however the towers aren't quite twins.

So that was our day outside of Paris. I hope you enjoyed the photos in this post, and I hope also that you are prepared for more images of little towns since we are currently in York, England, on our way up to Scotland.

If you enjoyed this post feel free to 'like' and share it. Also feel free to comment any questions or anything, however I might be unable to answer them quickly since I might be out of range of the internet.

Anyways, time to end this post and open my eyes again to England. Au revoir.

JR



Find out more about Proving Sunshine at:
http://www.provingsunshine.com/about/

Joel Gibson

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Perth, Western Australia

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