Bilko’s WW1 pilgrimage by Lambretta Part 2 | FEATURE
We rejoin Robert ‘Bilko’ Shaw from Northern Ireland on his solo tour of the WW1 battlefileds of the Somme as he lands in France. Already his Lambretta starts to give him concern…
Click to catch up with the first part of Bilko’s adventure.
Thursday 6th July
Just like the Belfast to Liverpool crossing, this night sailing was uneventful. After a couple of beers with one of the French Bikers I’d met I took my seat and rested.
As the boat docked into Le Havre it was time to set off towards Cambrai approximately 170 miles away, but I was not going to rush. The Lambretta was hardly going to let me anyway. I also had the ever more present issue with high cylinder head temperatures around 4,900-5,500 revs.
Like England, the day before it was very hot and I was riding with just a t-shirt under my jacket. It was after approximately 30 miles I was to have my fifth problem. My spare wheel fell off, but I didn’t realise this until two days later.
Are you being served?
I stopped at a place called Caudebec-en-Caux as my Sat Nav was telling me there was a petrol station here. All I had to do was find it. After a ten minute ride around one-way back streets, the wrong way, I found it. This was my first encounter with self service petrol stations in France. Easy once you know how, but removing your card before putting in petrol left me baffled.
Once I understood the petrol station service method, I was on my way, stopping along the way for petrol and water. The heat was beginning to become very tiring.
BIG TIP! My Brother warned me to make sure the nozzle was put back correctly as there was cases of people getting free fuel because the user didn’t replace the nozzle properly. Although I did notice there’s a cut off time if the pump isn’t used for a certain time.
Problem number 6 was another Sat Nav issue. A couple of times I was met by closed roads due to roadworks and I struggled to get round these. Again, it was a user problem. I failed to see the “Find Alternative Route” option in the menu.
I pushed on through the beautiful countryside passing through Rouen, Buchy, Fricamps and on to Amiens and with the traffic on the B Roads quiet, I was able to take in the views without attempts to run me off the road.
Beer and bikes
Once I reached Amiens, I was doing all right for time, I was in no rush. It was late afternoon and the heat was sapping my energy. I pulled into a motorcycle shop called Moto World. I was going to look for a spare pair of gloves. The place was huge, but the most interesting part about the place was that it had a bar inside the entrance. Was it to get customers to lose their inhibitions and spend more? Who knows? I had a couple of glasses of beer and moved on, without buying the gloves.
I stopped in Albert for a few photographs, but there was a big storm cloud behind me. I considered my options of staying in Albert for a while or riding on right away to try and beat the storm. Remembering my headlight wasn’t working, I decided to get going as light was fading.
My next stop was Albert. It was around 20 miles away, but it wouldn’t be long before I could see the welcome sight of the Golden Virgin on the Basilica shining across the countryside.
She’s gannae blow
As I rode into Albert, I was relieved to make The Somme. The CHT gauge was teetering on the brink of seize territory and riding either side of cruising speed for long wasn’t the most inspiring of riding styles.
Five miles was all it took to reach Thiepval and its huge memorial to The Missing of The Somme, which bears the names of over 72 thousand men whose bodies were never found. I was here at Thiepval last year, so I moved on to Serre Road.
Seven more miles and I was at Serre Road and Serre Road Cemetery No.2. It has over seven thousand graves with nearly five thousand unidentified.
Gerr orf moi land
I moved on hastily with light dropping and spots of rain beginning to fall. I knew I was close to Serre and half a mile up the road I found the turn off onto the track that would take me to Sheffield Memorial Park. It’s a rough ride for a few hundred yards on a track which certainly doesn’t cater for any vehicle except a tractor. There’s also another piece to add here. The farmer who owns the land around this part is very unfriendly towards people who cross his land to visit Sheffield Memorial Park and so it was inadvisable to ride my Lambretta up the track. But if Harry Bloor did it on his bike, then I would too…
Harry Bloor’s trench
So up the track I rode and there it was; Sheffield Memorial Park and the remains of the very trench that Private Harry Bloor left from on July 1st 1916 and subsequently on his motorbike in 1935. I put the Lambretta on the stand and stood in what remained of the trench. I made it and I’m not embarrassed to say that I shed a tear.
I thought about Private Harry Bloor. It was a very moving experience for me, but what did Harry feel? We’ve seen and heard accounts from soldiers of the Great War on their experiences of July 1st 1916, but what went through Harry’s mind in 1935? 19 years had passed and the landscape was changing. Farmers returned to take back their land, but the memories of what was would never fade.
Across The Somme alone there are 150,000 Commonwealth servicemen in 400 cemeteries with six memorials to the missing with the names of whom 100,000 have no known grave.
In only my second year of visiting the battlefields of World War One, I can’t begin to explain the feeling. Only being here will you get that feeling and whatever you believe or disbelieve, it’s definitely worth visiting.
Now it was time to push on for the last leg of the day, Cambrai. A 30 mile run.
The clouds had got very heavy and light faded really quick and I still hadn’t sorted my headlight, so I raced as quick as I could to the hotel, which took around 45 minutes.
I found the hotel (well, the Sat Nav did) and there to meet me were my brother, sister and good friends Mary Freeman & Mark Banning. At the bar was a beer, which disappeared quickly. Me and my brother then went on to our hotel half a mile up the road where we had a good catch up along with some decent Belgium beer before retiring for the night.
The Lambretta was to rest for a few days while my Brother took me on a tour of the battlefields. This is only part of the story. Getting to Cambrai was one thing, getting home would be another…
Words & Images: Robert ‘Bilko’ Shaw
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