Running parallel to the St Quentin-Cambrai highway, the Canal de St Quentin disappears into a 3.5 Km tunnel that dates to the time of Napoleon I. During the latter stages of WWI, the tunnel - which had been dried up and used as an underground haven for hospitals, barracks, etc. - was used as an integral part of the German Hindenburg defensive line. Different tunnel escape hatches could allow them to pop up behind would-be attackers, something that American and Australian soldiers would discover to their dismay. Pleasant hikes take off from the south entrance to the tunnel. There is also a museum devoted to the tunnel and the boat traffic which still utilizes it.
Five of these graceful mourning caribou can be found on former battlefields in France and Belgium where men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment fought and died in WWI. The main Newfoundland memorial is found at Beaumont-Hamel in the northern area of the Somme battlefields. Here at Masnieres, just south of Cambrai – next to a strategically for me placed gas station along N 44 – is one of the other four Newfie caribou baying in sorrow over the 100 or so Newfoundlanders who died in battle near here 20 November 1917. The monument marks the high water mark for Allied advances in the Battle of Cambrai. In the nearby Macoing British CWGC Cemetery is a row of Newfoundlanders who died that day. They had fought their way over the Escault Canal just south of here where the N 44 crosses but without reinforcements they were forced to withdraw. In recognition of their actions here and actions involving them at the Battle of the 3rd Ypres, King George V affixed the ‘royal’ title to the name of the regiment, the only such unit to have such an honor conferred on it during WWI while the fighting was ongoing.
A few miles northeast of St Quentin, the Somme River begins its life as it bubbles out of a hillside next to the little town of Fonsommes. Leave it to the French to make a big thing out of something so humble. That said the park here is quite nice where you can sit and contemplate the waters percolating out from the rock. We sat and watched it amidst a thunderstorm making an even stronger impression. The river becomes one of the more important rivers in Picardy and, of course, has connotations of other sorts due the huge battles fought in its vicinity during the First War. Don’t blame the river.