The rolling plains of Picardy.
A beautiful spring morning…
…and the road from Amiens is nearly empty as we head north east…
…towards the town of Albert, the famous Basilica clearly evident even from this distance.
On the western outskirts of the town, a Demarcation Stone by the side of the road marks the farthest point east that the Germans advanced in 1918.
For more information on Demarcation Stones, and to save me writing it all over again, click here.
View looking south west, away from Albert, past the Demarcation Stone…
…and from the same spot, looking north east towards the town.
Above & below: Similar views, different days.
Albert was the centre of operations for the British throughout their tenure of the Somme front, beginning in the summer of 1915, and as such was utterly devastated by German artillery during the war years.
The Golden Virgin and Child atop the iconic Basilica, as we saw earlier, is, and was, visible for miles around, and even in the first few months of the war was a target for German artillery. As early as January 1915 the Virgin was knocked askew, leaning precariously at a ninety degree angle until secured in its new position by French engineers. Superstition grew that when the Virgin fell, the war would end.
The Germans finally captured Albert on 26th March 1918 during their spring offensive, British artillery subsequently targeting the Basilica’s tower to prevent its use by the Germans as an observation post.
The Golden Virgin finally fell in April 1918. How ironic that it should be British gunfire that saw its ruin.
And the war went on.
Albert remained in German hands until liberated by men of the East Surrey Regiment in August 1918.
In case you’re wondering, the original Golden Virgin was lost once it fell from the tower, and the one you see now is a replacement.
For those whose French isn’t up to the mark, the right hand column gives a translation in English – click to enlarge. Note the photo of the ruined Basilica with the Golden Virgin hanging, seemingly precariously, from the top.
WWI German artillery piece, and British WWII artillery piece. Behind the guns you can see the entrance to the Somme 1916 Museum, and if you click here, you can have a look around it if you like.
There really isn’t a huge amount to see in Albert, but the fact that millions of British, Australian, Canadian, South African and Newfoundland feet tramped through this town to, and, for the lucky ones, from the battlefield, makes it a place worth pausing in for a few minutes’ reflection.
However, before we leave, if you wander down to the Place Emile Leturcq,…
…there are a couple of plaques on either side of the entrance to the Mairie that are worth a visit.
The Second World War plaque on the left remembers those who fought and suffered for the liberation of France.
The one on the right…
…remembers the men of the Machine Gun Corps who served in the Great War.
And this is Albert War Memorial, snapped out of the car window as we leave the town.
From Albert our journey heads north east, along the road to Bapaume, towards the killing fields of La Boisselle.
Above & following: The Class of ’18 outside the Basilica.