Once through the tunnel and into France we took a brief detour to visit the
World War Two V2 rocket site at Eperleques. This is a building, a grey and
rain-streaked concrete bunkhouse pumped up a thousand times, that looks like
it has been inflated with the same stuff that evil is made out of.
Back on the road we lowered the top. This car isn’t a full-on convertible
because its roof pillars remain in place when the top is down. This ensures
that the body is kept rigid and free of flex, without resorting to expensive
structural work, and it means the roof can be opened and closed at high
speeds (up to 75mph).
This arrangement also meant I had the terrible temptation to stand on the
smart and comfortable blue leather seat, poke my head out of the roof and
pretend I was a Hauptsturmführer in an SS Regiment arrogantly surveying the
onrushing Flanders countryside from the hatch of my Panzer. Something I
couldn’t have done in a complete convertible. (And of course I didn’t
because that would be stupid and childish).
Later that evening we attended the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate in
Ypres. After the laying of a wreath a guest of the Last Post Association is
invited to say the words of the Exhortation, taken from Laurence Binyon’s
poem “For the Fallen” And that night it was me, which was an
amazing thing. Standing in the centre of the road under the arch of the Hall
of Memory I recited:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
The next day was a whirlwind of cemeteries and battlefield sites and a visit
to something which is fairly common around these parts : the Flanders
equivalent of an English family-oriented pub.
However, whereas in England the innkeepers try to appeal to the family market
with a children’s slide or a little petting zoo in its garden, in this part
of the world this facility takes the form of a cafe that comes with its own
complex trench system out the back and a home-made museum which is by turns
creepy, upsetting and horrifying.
In this cafe’s I gaze at what I can genuinely describe as the most hideous
thing I have ever seen and proof that war drives people mad. It was a two
metre high grandfather clock made out of different sizes of ammunition, from
.303 rifle rounds to enormous 155 mm shells, with a portrait of the king and
queen of Belgium as the clock face.
On the way back to the UK Northern France was lashed by high winds but the
little DS stayed rock solid even at speeds of 130 kph. Like the hatchback,
the ride is quite firm and there is some road noise, but less than in some
rival soft tops. I got back to Ebbsfleet thinking that war is hell, but war
tourism in a DS3 Cabrio is about as good as it gets.