The Cambrai Run


6th-8th July 2007

In the end there were just four of us, following some last-minute drop-outs. Turned out to be the perfect number as it eased the issues of fuel stops and the inevitable u-turns while navigating round the battlefields. Simon and Marius on Sportsters, me and Robin on Softails.

Friday dawned clear and cold, and the run to the Tunnel was soon completed. Robin had gone down the night before to stay near the terminal so having the least distance to travel he was, of course, the last to arrive. However the rendezvous point was correctly identified (see the Somme report, 2006) and we were soon on the train and anticipating France. Off the train into the sunshine, quick petrol stop and straight down the motorway to Cambrai where we dropped the bags at the hotel. The afternoon was spent going to Lille and back to buy me a new rear light-bulb, some strange multi-terminal thingy that only Harley dealers sell. This exposed us to the joys of the A1 motorway, a non-toll three laner full of flat-out trucks and bad temper. Back at the hotel we all vowed that no further driving was wanted and decided to ‘eat-in’. The hotel itself was a quiet family-run Ibis on the outskirts of the town, strategically chosen to be on one of the main axes of the battlefield we were going to explore tomorrow. Comfortable rooms and secure parking, good draught beer and a decent meal hastened the slumbers.

On route

Saturday was the main Cambrai battlefield tour day, and throughout we were blessed with good dry weather as well as a most excellent tour guide. The battle, fought in November - December 1917, featured the first large scale use of tanks, and accordingly became a battle of manoeuvre and strongholds rather than traditional trench lines. We visited many of the key points - highlights were the looming presence of Bourlon Wood, the rustic charm of Flesquières and the two vital canals, the Canal du Nord and St Quentin. Robin’s careful and thorough reconnaissance ensured that we made best use of the time we had. Robin led and I did ‘last man’ although with only four bikes it was the buddy system all the way.

On Sunday we took the opportunity to revisit some of the sights of the Somme battlefield, including the awesome South African Memorial at Delville Wood. The South African Brigade went into the wood in July 1916 some 3500 strong, and when relieved a few days later there remained 140 unwounded soldiers...

Deville wood

Lunchtime saw the only rain of the weekend, while we sheltered at Tommy’s Bar in Pozieres and then squelched round the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval. The morning sunshine had glistened from the Golden Virgin on top of the basilica in Albert, emphasising once again just how small the the first-day battlefield was. By the time we had got back to Calais the rain had abated. Back in Blighty the only issue was the still-dispersing traffic which had occupied Kent for the Tour-de-France stage so the M20/M26/M25 was much heavier than usual.

This area of France is ideal for short trips - it is full of interest, the scenery is beautiful and we always seem to meet the nicest people. This being the third consecutive battlefield trip focussing on the Great War (Ypres, Somme, Cambrai), we are contemplating Waterloo for next year.

Thanks to all the participants but especially Robin Lahiri for another excellent ‘show’.

Michael Howers - C&F Road Captain

War graves