Cambrai

The first major tank battle

25 km to the south east of Arras lies the town of Cambrai, a pleasant town and worthy of a few hours sight seeing.

The Hôtel de Ville

In the central square - Place Aristide Briand you will find parking space and the Hotel de Ville. Make sure you hang on to watch the clock strike the hour. You will get to see the town's oldest inhabitants: Martin and Martine who will strike the hour as they have done since 1510.

Martin and Martine

To the left of the Hôtel de Ville is the Church of St Gery with its 76m tower. The interior is worth the short walk, and it will give you a chance to pass the Caves Pasteur with a reasonable selection of fine wines, and a good collection of beers, some of which can be hard to come by.

Check prices before you buy, the more basic beers are expensive compared to the local Hypermarkets. They do provide a reasonable selection of gifts sets though

And whilst I am talking about things digestible - the local sweets are called betises de Cambrai.

Legend would have it that an apprentice sweet maker called Afchaine made such a mess of one batch of his parents' sweets, that his mother told him that all he had made were sweets that were stupid or betises.

As is often the case with such things, the betises turned out to be an immediate hit, and have been produced ever since. Originally mint flavoured you can now see fruit flavoured sweets as well.

 

St Martin's Belfry

St Martin's Belfry

Just down one of the side streets at the top of the square and opposite the Hôtel de Ville you will see the 70m Belfry of St Martin, which is all that is left of the 15th century church.

 

The town was taken by the Germans in August 1914 and remained under occupation until liberated by the 3rd Canadian and 57th British Divisions on 9 October 1918.

On the roundabout in the Place 9 Octobre you will find three memorial plaques; one to the Royal Canadian Regiment on the occasion of their Centenary in 1983, another in commemoration of the Canadian Army's arrival in the town and the other in remembrance of the British 57th Division.

Although under bombardment by Allied guns, most of the damage caused to the town was by the retreating Germans mining a number of the ancient buildings.

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The impressive Cambrai War Memorial

At the entrance to the the Public gardens you will find the town war memorial whilst inside the spacious gardens you will find, to the left, a monument to Louis Bleriot the pioneering aviator.

Louis Bleriot Monument

Looking at the town memorial, take the right hand edge of the park, and, as you walk round the corner, you will come across a set of steps. On the left hand side you will find a memorial to the attack launched by the 3rd Army on 20 November 1917 when 381 tanks were used. The first time that the new invention had been used in any great numbers.

Whilst not turning out to be the wonder weapon that the Allies had hoped for, the Battle of Cambrai marked the turning point in the vehicles acceptance amongst the hierarchy of the military.

The Battle of Cambrai 1917 The Battle of Cambrai 1917

Wilfred Owen the poet was killed fighting on the Sambre Canal, 30 km to the east of Cambrai during the final week of the war.

Wilfred Owen Wilfred Owen