Saturday, 14 November 2015

Thiepval Memorial and Anglo-French cemetery.

We visited the Thiepval Memorial in northern France in May as part of a visit to WW1 battle sites, at this centenary time, to see where so, so many, soldiers from all parts of the world, including our relatives, had fought and died. Thiepval is a small village in the beautiful Picardy region and it lies in the valley of the river Somme, scene of fierce battles for control of the area.

This information sign below is displayed at the site and sets out, as well as anyone could, the motivation for the memorial and how it came to be built.

Amongst these 72,000 names are seven holders of the Victoria Cross (one a South African) and numerous sportsmen of the time; top cricket and rugby players from all parts of the United Kingdom.

During construction. This memorial is probably the most imposing of such British structures in the area and is visited by 120,000 people every year. The white panels are of Portland stone from Dorset and the brick above was from Lille, the nearby French town.

Another view of the memorial later in its construction. It is 43 metres (140 feet) high and is built on very thick foundations, required because of wartime tunnels existing below.

Letter carving of each of the more than 72,000 individual names; an enormous and laborious task!

Thiepval Memorial on its inauguration day in August 1932.

My own picture of the Memorial on a rare sunny dry moment (!) in early May 2015. Heavy rain squalls were passing every hour or so. It really is huge when you stand near or on it, as you can imagine from the tiny-looking doorways at the bottom of each tower.  It dominates the landscape and is obviously sited deliberately on a high point, so that it can be seen from afar. In 1973, due to weathering, the red Lille brick was replaced by much harder red engineering bricks from Lancashire.

View from the memorial on its other side, across the cemetery towards the open rolling countryside of the area. The many cemeteries in northern France and Belgium are kept in immaculate condition by the CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

The inscription at the top of the memorial

Just a few of the innumerable panels recording the names of the missing Allied soldiers. If you look at the memorial photo three photos above, each of those sixteen tower supports has three sides entirely covered with such panels. And these are only the missing! The hundreds of thousands of known soldiers killed in the Somme battles are laid to rest in small cemeteries, dotted very prominently across the local landscape. It's a very sobering place to visit.

My thanks once again to Nigel for all his research and the write up. 

See also my daily Photo Diary Here

My Life Before Charente   - New post 24/10/2015

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Circuit Des Remparts 2015 - Angouleme- Day 3 The races!

The Friday car elegance show and the Saturday rally  were a quieter prelude to the Sunday RACES! The city's organisation must have worked 24/7!;  clearing out all the parked cars, "corralling" all the residents into their flats and closing the roads forming the inner city road racing circuit. By the time we arrived at 08h00 on the Sunday morning, everything was set up and running smoothly - the pits, metal fencing and barriers, grandstands, food stalls, toilets, marshals, commentators, ambulances, breakdown crews, the lot! It all seemed to me to be much like a miniature version of the Monaco GP! They have been running this event EVERY year since 1939, interrupted only by WW2, so they should know what they are doing! Famous names like Fangio, Ferrari and Gordini made some of their first appearances here, on this short 1.3 kilometre (0.8 mile) circuit.
Angouleme - a bird's eye view of part of the circuit, showing the steep inclines and curves to be negotiated by the competitors.The cathedral spire is top left.
A Bugatti type 35 (I think!!) getting familiar with the roads during the morning practice runs.

More Bugattis - some drivers removed their headlamps, or never had them!

A Bugatti type 37 from 1929. Could be worth €400,000 and he's racing it around the streets!

Mini Cooper S, ideally suited to this short, narrow, winding circuit.

Alfa Romeo, I'm guessing it's the valuable 2300cc model 8C from the early 1930's, being scooped up after a mechanical malfunction.

An Allard K2 roadster from 1951 - very rare (only 120 made), beautifully prepared and powered by an American V8 engine. Sidney Allard was an English motor engineer who designed and built racing cars in that era.

Here it is again, in the races, catching up with an Alfa Romeo Guilia saloon, a Golf and a Renault 5 Turbo. It has huge power in a straight line, but is not as nimble around the twisty bits as the smaller cars! It was raced with gusto, and the crowd loudly applauded the driver's enthusiasm!

A 1970's Porsche 914-6 chasing a 1950's Jaguar XK120 past the Cathedral public grandstand

 Citroen MEP from the early 1970's. M.E.P are the initials of a Citroen franchise holder who designed the car for racing, in response to the French public's enthusiasm for single-seaters. It uses an 1100cc Citroen engine.

The same car driven in anger to win its class. The safety fencing wasn't conducive to taking clear photos!

Breathe in... small 848cc two stroke Panhard Sports  and a huge 1954 16 feet long Studebaker Champion lean on either side of a poor little Austin A35 at the back of the field. You can see the Allard again, up ahead in the distance.

1953 Panhard Fairchild Special, pirouetting gracefully on three wheels, before.....

having a confrontation with someone's garden wall!! This was a photo of the big viewing screen opposite our stand, hence the blurring.

1965 Porsche 911 smoking its rear tyres in an effort to escape a Ford RS1600 and another 911. The Ford retired, leaving the white car to a comfortable race win.

A  French registered and immaculate Jaguar SS100 seemingly "just parked" for people to admire.

An extremely rare Jowett Jupiter from the 1950's, and all the way from England!

An afternoon of 10 races made up the packed and very entertaining programme, each race being of 20 laps or about 25 minutes. The fastest lap of the day was made at an average speed of 80 kph (50mph), which doesn't sound very fast, but the circuit is very restricted, as you can see, and there is also the matter of lapping slower cars, so I think a bit of bravery is needed to achieve such times. As in the previous events, the organisers had to be thankful for support from  UK entrants to achieve respectable numbers. All in all, a great weekend's experience and we counted our blessings with Sunday's very warm sunny September weather!

Thanks again to Nigel for all his research and the write up.  I might recognise a few models but not many!

See also my daily Photo Diary Here

My Life Before Charente   - New post 24/10/2015

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Circuit Des Remparts 2015 - Angouleme - Days one and two

This post, and the next, will chiefly appeal to classic car fans, but due to its longevity, this motor sporting event  is such a fundamental and important part of the year for the city and its people (they are named the Angoumois), I hope that every reader, car fan or not, will find something of interest in it! Below is this year's poster for the event, which has been held every year since 1939, interrupted only by World War II. That's quite a record!

Signs like this below are erected on every major road entering the city. They set out brief details of the activities, held over a long September weekend from Friday to Sunday. The events  comprise a Concours D'Elegance on the Friday evening, a (fairly gentle) rally on Saturday (because most of the cars are old and/or valuable!), with the grand finale on Sunday being flat-out racing around a street circuit in the old town - all closed to normal traffic, of course! Participants often come from far away in their enthusiasm to participate in one or other of the above; many are French but a large contingent comes from the UK, as you will see. Without them, I felt that the event would be much smaller and much the poorer!

A beautiful 1939 Alvis 4.3 litre drophead coupe below, driven all the way from England by a mature gentleman and his wife! This car won the open-top class in the Concours, a competition in which cars (and some motorbikes), divided into classes, are judged by a panel, for their condition, style and the way in which the driver and passengers are attired to match the looks and age of the car! The contest here is all fairly light-hearted, but the long and unseasonably cold and rainy evening must have tested the patience of the entrants!
 The Alvis was snapped in daylight, on its way to the evening event, but I found it very difficult to take shots of many of the entries on the judging ramp due to the artificial lighting set-up and the intermittent rain squalls, so I only have two other class winners worth showing! The car below is a Porsche 356C from the mid '60s, cleverly  decked out in a winter sports mode. The engaging boy (on the right) throwing fake snowballs at the crowd must have added a few points to the car's score!

A host of vintage motorbikes below, mostly French, with the class winner being a teenager who had rebuilt his vintage bike himself!

After a late night with the Concours, the car rally started early on Saturday morning, following a 180km (115 mile) route around the local countryside, taking in sunflower fields and the extensive estates growing grapes for wine and Cognac (that famous town is not very far away). There was an official entry of some 300 cars, of which only 200 were in the programme, so that made identification difficult for us! The lunch  break was in Jarnac, a small town SW of Angouleme, so we headed there to get some shots of the competitors as they drove in from their morning's challenges. The whole town came to a standstill and streets were gridlocked as many locals arrived to show off their own oldies. The gendarmes battled valiantly to keep the traffic moving!

Of the hundreds of cars milling around, here are a few which caught my eye, illustrating the wide spectrum of motor transport developed in the middle years of the 20th century. The unusual car below is a Citroen-based Lomax from the '70s. Not so good to look at as the much earlier English Morgan 3-wheeler, I reckon! Still, the owner is obviously proud of it!

A stunning, rare and  valuable Bugatti type 35B below; more of a racing car, really, so the owner was very courageous in undertaking the rally day, just ambling along country roads for hours! These cars were produced in the mid to late 1920s and powered by 2.3 litre straight eight engines producing up to 130 horsepower. You'll need to find around £500,000 ($US750,000) for some examples, but this one would be out again the following day for the races around the town!

Now a 1965 Aston Martin DB5 from England; the same model was used in the James Bond films and that is worth £1,000,000 ($US 1,520,000). Whew!!

Below a 1920/30s Bentley sports, again , all the way from the UK, but not being an aficionado of the marque, I'm not sure exactly what it is!

Chenard Walcker, a rare French make, was manufactured in the '20s and some cars were built for racing. Indeed, there is an example in the Le Mans motor museum. Cars were built into the '30s, in association with the better known Delahaye brand, but after that the factory apparently closed down. This is French owned, as is the Citroen further below from the same era.

What looks below like a American Willys Jeep, seemingly converted for use by the French police. It didn't have any rally number plates on it, so maybe it was being driven around by some locals just displaying their pride and joy!

A Jaguar XK120 roadster, the first of their beautiful post-war XK series cars. The body styling caused a sensation when the car was introduced in 1948. Another car which came all the way from the UK.

This next one, again from the UK, possibly an MG M type "Midget" from the 1930s, fitted with a supercharger to improve performance. It  only had drum brakes to help the driver make it stop!

Below a local Peugeot 301 saloon, of which 70,000 were produced between 1932 and 1936. Its 1500cc engine helped it achieve 80 mph and it was one of the first cars to be designed with independent front suspension.

And last but not least, a well-restored Porsche 356 cabriolet from the mid 1960s. I seem to remember this particular car came from Holland, so quite a long drive in a 60 horsepower, 50 year old car! Don't miss the forthcoming part 2, the exciting race day!

Thanks Nigel for your research and help again.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here

My Life Before Charente   - New post 13/08/2015
Will catch up with the latter soon!!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Théâtre gallo-romain des Bouchauds.

The Gallo-Roman "théâtre Les Bouchauds" is located near Saintes, in the small municipality of Saint-Cybardeaux in the Charente. We happened to see the sign while we were out driving one day and decided to explore! The construction of this amphitheatre began in the first century AD and overlooks the Via Agrippa, a very important Roman road  nearly 600 km long from west to east across France, between Saintes and Lyon. This road is one of the four major highways built by Agrippa, a Roman general charged by the Emperor Augustus to bring some order to the Gaul empire, which the Romans had conquered. Engineering on a massive scale!

The French are very good at preserving historical remains and putting up signage to explain to visitors the purpose of what they see in front of them. This sign gives an overview of the site, which consists of two sacred circles of stone, each containing two small temples, plus a huge amphitheatre, scooped out of the top of the hill, next to them. The sign also gives details of the visitor centre based in a farm just up the road, but as is the custom in France, it's closed from 12h00 to 15h00, so we weren't able to see it!

The smaller of the two stone circles, with the outlines of the two temples visible.

An artist's impression of what the site might have looked like when in use. It would have formed a very prominent statement in the landscape and been most visible to travellers on the Agrippan way below.

Foundations of the two larger stone temples in the other stone circle, visualised in the sign below. Each temple comprised a central room (the red brick), accessible only to servants of the Emperor, with a colonnade (gravel) all round, which was used for ritual ceremonies.

The artist's impression, bringing to life the meagre stone remains visible today!
The amazing amphitreatre, seating about 7000 people, was one of the most imposing to be found in rural Gaul at that time. Lots of earth to move, but I assume that the Romans organised the local people to do all the shovelling!

The arena and stage!

Yet another artist's impression! The amphitheatre was a gathering place for the local people to put on and spectate at events involving music and dance, (no lions here!) but promoting the Roman culture before anything else!

 It's quite a significant hill and a huff and puff to climb up from the car park on the other side, but this is the reward - the fabulous view north across the countryside! The weather conditions were thin cloud and humid, hence the lack of blue sky!

A 19th century engraving of the remains of a "fairy castle" at the rear left on the amphitheatre

All that remains of the "fairy castle" today!

Thanks Nigel for your research and help once more.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here

My Life Before Charente   - New post 13/08/2015