Cookie and I made it after three years of preparation - at last we were here for the Centenary.
In the quiet afternoon in the Faubourg d'Amiens British Cemetery at the Arras Memorial we stood and said Kaddish
on Friday, 15th June, 2018; the last day you could still say it was in the 100th year since the passing of great uncle
Mark. He died 16th June, 1917. Ray remembered to bring the kapels I had the words on my trusty iPhone Siddur.
Our Hotel after a room change was fine with a lovely view and after closing the trebled glazed windows, quiet.
Dinner at Carpe Diem near the two squares - great atmosphere, my food was superb. Most seemed happy.
The next day, an hour and a half journey to Ypres - Menem Gate - Saturday 16th June. Got there with hours to spare
but needed every one of them.
Chilling last post by four bugler firemen, Belgian and British marching bands, bagpipes beautifully blaring through
the gusty air warmed by the thousand strong throng of tourists, relatives, musicians' wags, historians, dignitaries,
photographers (one looking the spit of my brother Barry) and those just passing by.
Sight of blue sky staring through the three circular skylights.
Free entrance but you had to stake your clam for a ringside standing position after a line of musicians’ relatives
turned up chaperoned in front of us after we had waited patiently for a couple of hours.
His position was very heatedly defended by an ex-Belgian now living in Perth man who nearly came to blows with a
vey lanky stiff-backed bereed old trouper who was taking no prisoners and confronted the belligerent antipodean.
All secure once the Australian ducked under the chain fence and stood alongside his new front line. Within minutes
the intruders had dispersed elsewhere and all was calm again.
On the Sunday after another heavy pastries session at the favoured boulangerie on Grand’Place Brian and Carolyn
stayed back for the morning to recover.
Journeyed from village to village mentioned in the Diary and in addition stopped off to inspect a number of small
graveyard plots - 400 to 600 stones in each - with German corners of a foreign field always a number of German
combatants graves - all immaculate - never saw a gardener - but a team must have just left each time we came
across another field of grave stones making their patterns - a box for visitors’ messages and notes about the people
and circumstances of the deaths contained at the memorial plot. Most named; some anonymous. Can't take in the
enormity of the loss, the vast number of people, of lives, of bodies, of loved ones, of consequences - of lessons still
Spent time in Bac du Sud, and other British Cemeteries. Met an Oregan man who was looking for his movie camera -
could only say the visit to Menem Gate ceremony would be a waste of time - well it was for him - we now know you
have to get there early - Alan was right he had warned us.
Lots of notices of names of those who served as another name - did they change their name (from Levy e.g.)
because of perceived anti-Semitism or maybe feared tougher treatment on capture - or because they signed up
before they were of legal age, who knows.
Even the tree planting and site design is beautiful - a form went out to loved ones in 1919 to tick and complete
boxes of information and that would decide the epitaph, the naming, and the religion or show age - which explains
why there is such a variety of amounts of information on each stone.
Every one demands that we should know more and understand better the horror of the families of the fallen finding
out and coping with the loss of their soul-mate, child or father. Yet so many were clearly too young to have had
families of their own.
Particularly Alma Harris - her poem when read out as Mark would have discovered it is truly heart-rending - he was
26 - not as young as most. They clearly would have married on his safe return.
Up the motorway drifted into Belgium and just before Ypres stopped at the Huuge Crater museum.
The trench example defended by an overzealous donation collector shouting at us to pay the right amount into the
honesty box before the visit - we were happy to pay any entrance fee before (there wasn’t one) or make a donation
after the experience - but there you go.
The trenches were never a straight line to stop one flame thrower or machine-gunner taking out an entire troupe
with one strafe of bullets.
We started to take it in turns to read out extracts from the Diary that mentioned the various places we visited and
thought hard about the sights Mark and his comrades would have endured a century earlier.
Saw and/or explored Achiet-le-Grand, Basseux, Bailleulmont, La Cauchie, all in the Communaute de communes des
The filled bullet holes and shrapnel marks on the local church of St. Martin and graffiti scribbled on the walls, over
many decades - so I added my own. The bells were still being tolled even though the church seemed locked and
empty mid morning on a Sunday.
So Mark died within two weeks of the last entry in his diary - they never found his remains - the reports of his
missing in action were sent to his parents a year later along with the official letter from the War Ministry Department
for Missing Persons that he must now be regarded as dead.
The letter was signed by Lord Lucan (grandfather of the presumed late Lord Lucan who famously went missing
himself in the 1970s (John Bingham 7th Earl of Lucan, 18 December 1934 – disappeared 7 November 1974) - he
must have know much about how best to go missing from his grandfather's stories we imagine).
In Arras, we enjoyed the beauty and order of its architecture with its joined at the corner squares of the Place des
Heros and Grand’Place with their repeating patterns of roof and frontage design - re built again and again after this
war and that. No sense of the nonsense that predated their restoration. One stand-out building missing the curved
Romanesque feature that instead had a castellated stepped configuration out of place yet reminding all of how hard
fought the other order must have been to become so compliant.
We visited half of the allotted village signs to make the trail and knew we’d done enough to experience and
reconnoiter Mark’s traipse through the now beautiful then bleak countryside. We returned to meet up with B&C at
Place de Héros for a final lunch at Amarine an excellent fish restaurant but in my case with sardines - big mistake.
Back at Arras, cobbled stones new and old competing to trip twist ankles and break suspensions. At one entrance to
the square where we had sat for lunch were hidden three up-rising column barriers but we watched incredulous as
the system revealed to be broken when it prevented the very emergency vehicle access the 'automatic' hi-tech
device was set up to achieve. A screwdriver and much anguish resolved the impasse.
Restaurants, all good whether on the main square or off-piste. All 'l'addition s'il vous plaites' generously and
competently divided between those who were drinking and those who were not.
Lots of one-sided conversations about block-chains; Sam knows more than I’ll ever understand on the future of
work. Not exactly a world fit for heroes as promised after each war. Maybe a million jobs lost in the UK alone -
sounding to me more like a First World War on employment.
Singing along with hundreds or so in triumphant chorus rigorously in French to the previously unheard of tune at
the Festival de Chanson applauded by the thumbs up of the local enthusiast whenever we attempted emphasis on a
meaning in a refrain. The choirmaster clambering awkwardly onto the wheeled on stage at the Place de Héros
outside the magnificent Town Hall near our Hotel Diamant.
We tried to gate crash the green room drinks and buffet laid out for the musicians and their friends - without
Toasts taken at every opportunity to Mark, to Margaret (Margaret and Alan couldn't be with us because of illness), to
Uncle Norman (whose stone-setting was this weekend and we were missing it) and to the number 22 (Uncle Norman
had always found the number in every aspect of his life, he was born 22.2.22) but coincidences kept on coming -
even the bill came to 222 Euro!!
The driving went without a hitch; the parking and paying for same also. Underground car park, pay and display, free
parking on a Sunday getting the car out just after the market finished - all unscathed - even getting petrol/diesel
before running out - having left it to the Sunday - not really sensible - we were lucky. Saw the roadside number
plate checking parking camera stalks one for every two cars for the first time.
Sam found us the museum for the Hooge Crater (and I thought they were referring to the HUGE crater). Well it was
massive; a kind of MasterCard logo style double circle lake filled hole in the ground which in its formation must have
vaporised all nearby deafening any within earshot. The nearby bunker built by the Belgians and then taken over by
the Germans before its recapture by the Brits - still a rat infested low roofed hellhole to be safeguarded by the very
bombs raining down to form the hooge crater hole.
Went into a trench made narrower than ever from creeping vegetation and earth build up over the decades. Nearly
fell in the wet mud - would have been appropriate if I had - just mudded my boots!
The border between France and Belgium is a joke - suddenly you’re in another country - only indications are the
changes in architecture gradually going Dutch and the serving of mayonnaise with chips - wonderful combination.
Tripping in and out of traif at the restaurants; Carolyn and I avoiding cheese - Cookie not happy till waiter/ress was
completely befuddled by semi-french ordered black coffee with hot water, and cold milk. Ros demanding just the
right amount of flash cooking for her rare tuna steak. Brian and I suffering /coping with hay fever bouts - waking up
the town with the occasional inappropriate sneeze bomb.
Pastries, croissants, sugared brioches, mini raisin croissants and tarts with amazing glaze tempted us every day -
mostly just gauped at through the glass and moved on - diabetes delayed.
Driving in convoy watching a motorway road rage between a mini and a boy racer stop go start and finish without
Cookie spied my doppelgänger in one of the photo displays - smoking a pipe in army uniform and looking
disarmingly like me - all quite creepy given we don't know what Mark F looked like...
Just need a Ray lookalike to complete the set!
We left with hugs and hopes of a return one day maybe with other younger members of Mark’s growing family of his
From the 1911 Census
Job: Machinery tailor
Address: 10 Montague Place, Whitechapel
Mark had 2 older brothers and 3 older sisters, 1 younger sister and 5 younger brothers.
Mark’s parents, Raphall and Dora married in 1881. As above, they had 12 children. Raphall
was born in Łódź, Poland and worked in Whitechapel as a Tailor Presser. He was tragically
killed in a road accident on 19th October 1919 aged 61. Dora was born in Kalish, Poland in
1861. She died in 1929 aged 68.
A transcription of a First World War diary