As the 4x4 European Rally Team 2014 make their way further West, we have further updates from Team McHenry enroute, covering the last couple of days.
Today's mission is called “Remember the Fallen’ and that’s just what we do as we head for the Somme. In this poignant year, many of the rally crews are taking slight detours to visit WW1 cemeteries where their ancestors were laid to rest. We’ve all been given wooden crosses with a poppy in the centre that we can lay at a place of our choosing.
We visit lots of cemeteries today; you can stand in one cemetery and see another cemetery a couple of fields away. Sadly, there seems to be more graves where the person was unidentified than those that have names.
In the afternoon, we are given the rare honour of being shown around the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Head Quarters in Arras. The site is responsible for everything in relation to CWGC sites around the world; whether it is creating new headstones, replacing signs, gates or doors.
In the evening we camped in Ypres and attended the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. The Menin Gate is a memorial to the men who lost their lives fighting around Ypres in WW1, and their names are carved in the walls. The structure is huge and there are two sections in the centre that have stairs which take you to other areas within the memorial; there isn’t a piece of wall that doesn’t have names on it.
The rally children are given the privilege of laying a wreath and are a credit to us as they approach quietly and bow their heads at the right moment.
We are heading towards Arnhem today, but not before we travel around the Ypres area. As always some of it is driving on roads and tracks, and after recovering from an early road diversion, everyone seems to find their way to all the places that our road books should be taking us.
One of the morning visits is to ‘Sanctuary Wood’, so named as it was used to screen troops behind the front line, although it did see fighting. When the First World War ended a farmer returned to his land, but left a section of the British trench system as he found it. It is now open to the public and you can walk through the trenches and tunnels, and wander around the museum which includes items recovered from the woods.
Before we leave the area we visit Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world and commemorates 35,000 Servicemen.
The journey to Arnhem takes us via the site of the battle of Waterloo and then on to Joe’s bridge in the Netherlands where XXX Corps began their advance as part of Operation Market Garden. A local man translates the sign for us, and explains that everyone is taught this as part of their school education. He explains the map to us and that we are beside a cycle path that takes you along the route and the key sites of what was known as ‘Hells Highway’.
We are now spending two nights camping in a wood near Arnhem; next to a field that was one of the drops zones for Operation Market Garden. The children, who have soon made friends, go off on mass to play in the park and amongst the trees. Domino Pizza’s are one of the sponsors for the rally and they deliver pizzas in the evening for everyone, which we all eat together in a clearing in the wood.
Today we visit key sites relating to ‘Operation Market Garden’ and start at the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek. Before we leave camp, we have a talk from one of the Paras who is taking part in the rally, and he explains the objectives of Operation Market Garden and why it went wrong. At the museum we learn about the experiences of the Servicemen and those of the locals and the impact on their lives. People had to leave their homes and find somewhere to stay, and many died of hunger; the stories are shocking and it's a side of war that we often forget.
We then visit Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery which contains the graves of the majority on those killed during Operation Market Garden. Local school children ‘adopted’ the cemetery and place flowers on the graves and learn about the men buried there.
A ‘pit stop’ has been arranged at Arnhem Land Rover Dealership, who welcome the rally crews with coffee and cake. They have H4H bunting and wristbands on the counters and even do a few repairs to the odd car that needs a bit of attention!
The ‘Wings of Liberation’ museum is our next stop and we have lunch before heading in to the museum. It’s full of vehicles and displays and we visit a room full of WW11 radio equipment which is being renovated and are shown a working radio system from a Lancaster Bomber.
Off-roading has been arranged in a woodland area where all the vehicles are in their element and everyone has fun. We then head off to see some more sites relating to Operation Market Garden, take a car ferry across the Rhine and head back to the camp site.
We are leaving Arnhem today and heading for Bastogne and the ‘Battle of the Bulge’. We zigzag between Germany and Belgium and whilst in Germany visit a Commonwealth War Cemetery in the Reichswald Forest where nearly 4,000 airmen are buried as well as 400 soldiers. The men that died in the Dambusters mission are also buried here.
Off-roading has been organised in the middle of the day around a working quarry site. Crews can do as much or as little of the course as they want, but there are points to be gained from doing it all.
In the afternoon, we travel down a lane and come across about 20 children who have been given time off school to welcome the rally crews. Appropriately, they are shouting “Welcome, welcome, welcome” as we approach the rally marshalls and a designated stop. They have each coloured a Union Flag and we are asked by the children to sign each one.
At this stop we enter an incredible museum which houses the private collection of a man who had been a boy during the war. His mother had refused to leave their farm and so there was fighting all around them. The collection contains items that have either been found, renovated or donated and as we are guided around the items, there are personal stories attached to every one.
We then travel onwards to Bastogne through the most beautiful countryside.
Check back in soon to see how the Rally is going in week two, and where they are in their journey, they can also always be tracked here.
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