Ablain-Saint-Nazaire _ L'anneau de la mémoire © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Michel DeshayesAblain-Saint-Nazaire _ L'anneau de la mémoire © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Michel Deshayes
©Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, L'anneau de la mémoire |CRTC Hauts-de-France - Michel Deshayes

In Vimy and Notre‑Dame de Lorette: observe the immensity of the tribute to freedom

Though our memorials are well beyond human dimensions, deep in our hearts and in our family memories lingers a compelling need – to be worthy of the tragedy that took place here. On the Artois hills, architecture has set the dimensions of the tribute; it is profound, transgenerational, and international.

Northern France _ Vimy _ Ridge Memorial © CRTC Hauts-de-France – Samuel DhoteNorthern France _ Vimy _ Ridge Memorial © CRTC Hauts-de-France – Samuel Dhote
©Northern France, Vimy, Ridge Memorial|CRTC Hauts-de-France - Samuel Dhote

The Ring of Remembrance is an architectural and artistic achievement, a monumental tribute commemorating the soldiers, husbands, fathers, and sons from the whole world over who fell in Nord Pas-de-Calais between 1914 and 1918, regardless of nationality, rank, or religion, looking well beyond selective memories.

Everything here is striking by the sheer dimensions of the place: 579 606 names engraved in steel are united for eternity in this elliptical monument that is 345 m in circumference, sitting precariously on the edge of a hill as if to draw attention to the fragility of peace. Up there, among all those names, you are sure to find that of a friend or family member, and you will reminisce on stories passed down from one generation to the next.

Climb the hill on foot from the car park at the 14-18 museum in Souchez to reach the ring (an easy climb with a view over the Loos-en-Gohelle slag heaps, 15 minutes). Once inside, you will be overwhelmed by the silence and, when night falls, the sensation is even more intense as the ring is bathed in a radiant aura reflecting back at the stars. While you are there, visit the Cabaret-Rouge cemetery, where the concentric lines of the 7645 graves of Commonwealth soldiers have replaced the tiny red-brick café that was destroyed in 1915.

On the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette hill is the biggest French military cemetery in the world, where 42 000 soldiers who died on the Artois and Flanders front rest in peace. In the centre of the national necropolis rise the lantern-tower and the basilica. When you visit, you will encounter the guards of honour who take care of the location voluntarily and can talk to you for hours on end about the history of the two monuments. Every Sunday, they rekindle the eternal flame that, at the top of the tower, can be seen in all the surrounding countryside.

 

When they took the Vimy ridge that overlooks the Artois planes and the strategic coal-mining basin, the Canadians paid a heavy toll for freedom with the loss of 66 000 of their men. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial, the most prestigious Canadian monument in Europe, was built on land that is now Canadian and is planted with Canadian trees; it is an impressive tribute to these men.

Local’s tip

Micheline LemayMicheline Lemay
Eat at Al’Fosse 7: a restaurant replica of an underground coalmine

You’ll find this unique and popular place to eat just on the outskirts of Lens, in the Avion district. Although you wouldn’t know it from the outside, the décor inside is made to look like a mine shaft, and with items of mining memorabilia offering added character, it feels really authentic. The atmosphere is also laid back and convivial, with staff sporting the characteristic blue workwear of the miners or ‘gueules noires’ [black faces] as they were known. It’s a great place to try some regional dishes like the famous ‘carbonnade flamande’ [beer and beef stew] and a meal at Al’Fosse 7 is a real must for anyone in the area.

Micheline LEMAY, local guide specialising in mining heritage
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Useful info

Address

Chemin du Mont de Lorette  – D58E3

F-62153 ALBAIN-SAINT-NAZAIRE

Contact

Tel: +33 (0)3 21 74 83 15

 

Address

102 Rue Pasteur

F-62153  SOUCHEZ

Address

2 Place de Notre Dame de Lorette

F-62153 ALBAIN-SAINT-NAZAIRE

Address

55 Route départementale, Chemin des Canadiens

F-62580 GIVENCHY-EN-GOHELLE

Address

16 Place Jean Jaurès

F-62300 LENS