Tracing the advance of the Canadians in the last 60 days of WWI – Canal du Nord to Cambrai
Prior to leaving home I picked up one of Norm Christie’s series – King & Empire. This one ‘The Canadians at Cambrai’ Traces the advance and capture of the town of Cambrai in October 1918. The drive from Arras to Canal du Nord is about 20 minutes. I made one stop at the Canadian Memorial at Dury. Canada has 8 WWI memorials on the western front I have now seen 4 of them and I hope to make it 7 out of 8 before I leave. The day was hazy so many of my attempts to find a photograph landmarks were thwarted.
Starting at the Canal du Nord I followed the travel path outlined in the book. It took me to a number of cemeteries, again mostly in out of the way places. The most dramatic part of the day was the drive from the Drumond Cemetery – down a rough road outside Ste-Ole to the Sancourt Cemetery which is in the middle of both a farmer’s field and the approach path for the runway at a French Airforce base. The distance between these two points was about 2 km. The thought of tens of thousands of Canadian soliders crossing the farm fields was almost unimaginable.
There were compelling items all along. The commanding officer of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (a fine unit both then and now) was lost in the advance on Cambrai, he is buried at Ontario Cemetery. At the Drummond Cemetery there are 2 german soliders buried with the Canadians. At the “Canadian Cemetery” – yes that is the name, in addition to the WWI burials there is a Lancaster Crew from 408 squadron RCAF shot down while attacking Cambrai in June of 1944 as the Allies were advancing from Normandy. This bombing attack was to disrupt German supplies through the transport hub of Cambrai. Basically the same reason that they Canadians attacked in 1918.
The tour finished by driving in to Cambrai for lunch. The city had to be almost completely rebuilt after both WWI and WWII. The former because of Artillery and the Germans burning the city before while being forced to retreat under the weight of the Canadian advance. The second because of Allied bombers attacking the transportation routes that ran through Cambrai.