Horrific First World War battlefield
It more than a hundred years since the battle for ‘Hill 145’ (the highest point of the 22-km ridge) was won by the Canadian Corps on April 9-10, 1917. The Germans had held the ridge since 1914, and some 200,000 Canadian, British, French and German soldiers are buried on its slopes. After the flat, featureless landscape of the northern plains, Vimy still has the power to shock and to move. It remains unnaturally quiet, and nothing but pines will grow in the thin, chaotically pock-marked soil, where deep craters, though carpeted in grass, will not disappear for generations, if ever. Sandbagged trenches wind through the hillocks, the front line trenches a clothesline apart, and here and there gun emplacements lie abandoned in the thick red mud.
The land around Vimy is owned by the Canadians in perpetuity. From April to mid-November guided tours visit the trenches and tunnel complex, and an information centre is manned year-round near the soaring limestone Vimy Memorial overlooking the Douai Plain. Back on the D937, at la Targette, the Musée Militaire de la Targette contains 2,500 First World War objets de guerre from Kaiser Bill helmets and uniforms to tobacco tins (www.musee1418.com).