Thursday, June 4, 2009



Masterpiece by Marjorie Tombs

The "Jerrycan of Friendship" French Military Vehicle Club

Lang rides Jerome's R12 BMW outfit Paris

Sacre Coeur Paris

Line-up Mont St Michel

The Tomb's Farm Normandy

French National Memorial Verdun

Some of the remains of 130,000 unknown soldiers Verdun


Our first stop in France was in Mulhouse where Lang and a few of the group went and enjoyed visiting the Museum that houses the famous Schlumpf Collection and also the National Railways Museum with it's superb collection of locomotives and carriages. Another group enjoyed cooling off in the campsite pool as it was the hottest day we have had on the trip.

On Monday we arrived in Verdun after a very scenic drive and enjoyed the lush French countryside. We stopped along the way in the lovely little village of Domremy to have lunch and inspect Joan of Arc's house and the nearby cathedral.

Verdun has the dubious reputation as being the byword for war time slaughter. During the last two years of WW1, over 800,000 soldiers – some 400,000 French and almost as many Germans, along with thousands of the Americans who arrived in 1918, lost their lives. In the town and the surrounding areas there are very moving memorials and museums to their memories. Five villages that were completely wiped out in the area and still show the original bomb craters , with just small signs marking where different families lived and, even though today there are trees and grass, it still has an incredible inpact.

The Douaumont Ossuary, at 137m long is extremely impressive and one of France's most important WW1 memorials. It contains the rermains of about 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers from the battlefields collected after the war.

After 2 nights in Verdun we arrived at our campsite in the middle of Paris and again had a two night stopover. The crews were very apprehensive about the drive through Paris but the various GPS navigation units got everyone in to our camp on the Seine in the Bois de Boulogne without too much tension. The first night Lang and I went to the old bohemian area of Montmarte to capture the romance we had experienced there 40 years previously. Unfortunately we came away disappointed as commercalism and tourism has completely taken over. Lang commented that the best description of the place was "tawdry".

The next day we were invited by the French Military group to go and view their collection. Many vehicle owners in Paris use a marvellous old army facility near Versailles and just half an hour outside the city where they are able to not only store their vehicle but work on them doing their restorations or maintenance. On Thursday Henry de Willy came to our campsite and led a number of vehicles packed with our group down to view their collection and then Jerome Stevens who we had been liasing with, arrived to show us his fantastic collection of vehicles as well as putting on an impromptu and very scrumptious lunch. Many of their members were preparing their vehicles for the trip to the D day celebrations in Normandy.

In the afternoon we caught up with Rhonda, Lang's sister ,who has been holidaying in France for the last nine months. Then in the evening we were invited out to Anna and Franck Bailleul's for a delicious dinner just a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower. We met Anna and Franck five years ago when we were in France for the 60th D Day Anniversary, and this year Anna and Franck have invited all our group to a D Day garden party on the night of the 6th June at their chateau in Normandy, so we are all looking forward to that later in the week.

From Paris we changed our original itinerary as everyone likes the two night stops in the one venue, and we headed straight for Mont Saint Michel. Along the way we encountered a vast traffic jam. It turned out the French farmers were protesting the low price of milk so had barricaded several towns with their fleet of tractors. We managed to go around the blockades by travelling on scenic back lanes.

The first sighting of Mont St Michel is very impressive. The spire of the cathedral extending from the walled town perched on a rock, surrounded by sea is one of the great sights of France.

We managed to get the vehicles on to the causeway very early in the morning for a photo before the buses and cars started to arrive. This also enabled us to climb the steep narrow laneways past all the cafes and souvenir shops, and look through the abbey before the tide of people descended. The tourists reminded Lang of the annual migration of the Wildebeest on the Serengeti Plains with the lions (the store owners) waiting paitently for their next feed.

On Sunday Lang and I headed the 60kms to our friend's, Marjorie and Peter Tombs, place where they very generously had invited the whole group to stay for the night. We first met Marjorie and Peter when we were in the UK 20 years ago for the 45th D Day Anniversary, and they have been involved in some of our various projects over the years.

Peter has an amazing collection of vehicles and a year ago made the move from the UK to their French 16th century farm house. Peter managed to finish his large barn where he can display all his vehicles in time for our arrival. By late afternoon everyone had arrived and we had the best BBQ meal with lots of wonderful homemade fare, a real treat from the very basic meals we have been cooking on our one and two burner stoves. We had a great jam session to finish the evening with our two resident musicians (Sam on Sax and Dale on guitar) as well as Chris the next door neighbour on the electric guitar.We thank the Tomb's very much for their friendship and generosity.

We had an early start the next morning and one of the few times we have driven in convoy we did the 60 kms to our camp site for the next week at Etreham in Normandy. Entering the village with all vehicles driving in an impressive tight convoy was quite special for Lang and me as we felt we had again accomplished what we had set out to do, and that was to bring 15 vehicles from Australia via Istanbul to Normandy.