French Trip to the Trenches of WW1 - Part 1 - MVAgusta.net
 
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post #1 of 6 (permalink) Old 06-09-2010, 06:51 PM Thread Starter
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French Trip to the Trenches of WW1 - Part 1

For this year’s French trip we decided to base ourselves over in the east for our annual 'long weekend' (6 days – well, we say long weekend, our wives say it’ a week!....but it’s not a week so why argue!). The purpose was as always to have fun enjoy great roads, eat fab food, drink the best wine (what is it they say?....wine women and song?!!)....all as usual (well not the women part...our wives would get most upset) but also visit some of the World War 1 battle fields and learn a little more of what I remember my grandfather telling me when I was a kid, about his experiences in the trenches.

The trip was both fascinating and very moving and had quite an effect on me. Whilst it may not interest all, I felt I had to put it down in writing, so hopefully some will find it interesting! If you like to mix a bit of history with your holiday, then this area is not to be missed, but be warned, you will come away with your emotions truly affected.

There were 10 of us in total from various parts of the country. We are a pretty diverse group both in background, employment and age, but we are all the best of mates and have the common interest of bikes, and some of us have been doing this every year for over 25 years.

We met up in the docks at Dover on a wet Thursday morning which was a great start! Some of us had ridden down in the afternoon before in glorious sunshine and stayed in a hotel on the outskirts of Dover, and some had set off at 4am on the Thurs morning and had endured a pretty miserable ride down.

The bikes were the usual assortment of Jap and Euro. As well as my MV there was a BM S1000RR (Pete), a Ducati 1098 (Gruesome), and 848 (Northern Ladd). Representing the oriental side were 3 Busa's (El Prez, The Sherriff, & Salts), a brace of GSXR1000's (Taz and Books) and a Honda CBR1000 (Stud). For the first time since 1999, there was no representation from Triumph. Only 5 years ago there were 6 Triumphs in a group of 9, how things change!

On boarding the ferry and after the usual argument with the ship’s crew, insisting they strap the bikes down (the ships insurance won't pay up if you strap it yourself in the event of disaster) we occupied the bow section and the banter and piss take duly commenced!

An hour and 40 mins later we were on the road in a hazy but warm and welcome sunshine.

Our first stop after approx 60 miles was the WW1 site of the Battle of Vimy Ridge where the Canadian Corps fought the German Sixth Army. It’s a fascinating memorial, and when you walk through the trenches of both sides it is mind blowing to see that the opposing armies trenches were less than 30 metres apart in places. They fought like that for two years without the front line progressing in either direction. From the trenches we wandered up to the memorial itself, which is pretty spectacular but also very moving. See the pics in my gallery. The wires you can see around the trenches are electrified to prevent the visitor straying into areas where there are still live munitions!

After a lunch stop we were back out on the road. We tried to avoid the peage auto-routes, and stick to back roads where possible. As is the nom in France, even the yellow roads are good enough to maintain a pretty good pace. Loaded up was not a problem and with the weather getting warmer the pace was starting to step up.

The Beemer looked well settled....we were all hoping for a little ride on it over the next few days! My MV though, armed with its tank bag and a Kriega rucksack was a thrill a minute as I blasted out of each of the towns. The towns and villages were becoming more frequent and were a little concerned at the time i.e. we still had 150 miles to Verdun + it was heading towards 4pm (and we had in the back of our minds a bed and an evening meal with lashings of red wine!). With ten bikes to fill at the fuel stop’s it seemed to take forever.

There was nothing for it, we switched to the auto-route and got into a steady 100mph cruise. It didn’t take long before a series of on-coming cars were flashing their lights manically! Sure enough a few clicks down the road was the patrol car tucked up off the carriageway with tripod and speed camera. Soon we were back up to speed, only for the heavens to open and it was all stop to break out the waterproofs. Sods Law. We made Verdun in good time and the bikes were accommodated in the hotels car park beneath (chargeable to cars – free to bikes!). As we unloaded we took the opportunity to lube the chains whilst they were still hot.

The hotel wasn’t brilliant but it was clean, the beds were comfortable, and the bikes were safe. We tried a restaurant recommended by the girl on reception which was certainly different as every dish either consisted of potato or was served with baked potatoes. We all looked a little quizzical as our meals were presented, but all agreed it was just what we needed as the red wine started flowing in earnest!!

Friday started slowly!! Fortunately for my head, it was tipping down with rain! So today we decided on a little culture and wandered around the town to learn a little of its history.
We first visited the cities Citadel which tells the story of perhaps the biggest single battle ever, that lasted 10 months where a quarter of a million were killed and over half a million injured. It was very sobering, but nothing compared to what we were to see over the next few days. The Citadel also told the story of how the body of the unknown soldier buried beneath the Arc de Triomphe was selected. Where ever you went in or around the city there are constant reminders with memorials, or battle scarred buildings, and the numerous cemeteries in the area. As we emerged from the underground Citadel we found the rain had stopped and the sun was out, so we headed back to the hotel and donned our leathers and went for a quick explore of the area and suss out the quality of the roads. We covered about 100 miles and let’s just say we had a bit of fun! The MV of course performed immaculately!

That night we had a great meal of fish soup, and fillet steak, again lashings of red wine. We found a great bar that had a fifties band playing who were brilliant. They carried on playing till 2.30 in the morning and the whole place inside and out was rocking! What a night! By the time we had finished off the establishments supply of malt whiskey, we rolled in at about 3.30 for a well earned rest!

Saturday, with very heavy heads we set off for a trip of about 150 miles of twisties! The route followed the border with Belgium and Luxembourg both of which we dipped into and out of. Our navigator (man with map) provided us with a brilliant range of long fast sweepers and tight back to back hair pins + of course the long wide open straights where you can see for miles. The start of the journey was a little tentative and I really couldn’t dial in, but after a coffee stop things started to hot up. Taz on the GSXR was usually the first to break rank with Gruesome on his 1098 right on his tail. I tended to wait for a few to make the break and then nail it to see who I could catch up. I found the others were much more wary of the tight twisties and invariably it wasn’t long before I caught the guys, but always that darned S1000RR was tucked right up my jaxy!!

We tended to cover 30/40 miles and then stop to compare notes or have a coffee and wait for the others to catch up! The biggest bind with a group of 10 is definitely the fuel stops, particularly if the station only has a couple of pumps. We tended to pair up and fill a couple of tanks at a time. We did no culture on this day, just riding and enjoying the views, taking pics etc. The whole point of our trips is to relax and enjoy. In the end we had covered around 200 miles which wasn’t bad.

Sunday, rain again!...but we were determined to get out on the bikes. By the time we had breakfasted and togged up, the roads were drying and we set off for a gentle ride with mixed roads. We started to swap bikes and compare notes. I took on the Charlie’s 848, having never ridden one. I have ridden a few 1098s so was interested to see how this compared. Although this had been slightly breathed on, I was staggered by how good it was. One of the most easiest bikes I have ridden on the road, with more power than expected. Of course Charlie just disappeared into the distance on my MV with the others, but I really enjoyed throwing this bike around, and in fact the others never got that far ahead. By the time we got to the end of this particular stint, I can understand why so many say an 848 is really all you need on the road. But back on the MV, and as we left our coffee stop, to be greeted with a long open straight, I just nailed the throttle, and was so relieved to be swayed back to the argument that you can’t beat cubes!! Better still you can’t beat an MV on full chat!!

We had had a pretty good days riding but decided that after lunch we should head back towards Verdun as a few had recommended visiting Fort Douamont nearby. Am I glad we did. If you are in the area, I can thoroughly recommend it.
The fort sits at the top of a hill and is built into it and was designed in 1865 to accommodate approx 600 troops. During the battle of Verdun though it was accommodating approx 3000 troops. When you enter the fort, it is very damp and dingy, and feels a very unhealthy environment. Imagine during the war with the smell of excrement (there was no drainage) and the deafening noise of the battle overhead.

The fort was actually captured by the Germans in 1916 after 8 months of trying and whilst they occupied it they suffered one of the biggest losses in this battle when a the grenade store was shelled.

The wife said "Go buy some Art"...
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I bought art.....MV Art!
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post #2 of 6 (permalink) Old 06-10-2010, 01:41 AM Thread Starter
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The resulting explosion killed 679 troops instantly. Because of the high levels of dead, most of the bodies were left where they died and the area of the fort was bricked up and the ‘tomb’ remains to this day. The French recaptured the fort shortly after.

I was staggered by what they must have endured. Between 800 and 1400 German shells struck the fort each day in 1916 before they captured it! The noise must have sent the troops insane. Outside you can roam the area and you instantly are aware that the terrain looks like something from another planet. There is crater after crater as far as you can see. Amongst the craters are the various gun emplacements and observation points each covered by a massive curved domed top.

For the technical bods, the retracting guns are an incredible feat of engineering. They are still there and you can see all the mechanics that lift these cannons 600mm and then project out, fire and then drop down again! Each of the counterweights that help lift the guns weigh 38 tonnes! You can’t imagine what the noise must have been like when they went off. After a fair amount of time spent exploring and contemplating what it must have been like to be there (Hell!), we took the bikes up the road to the Ossuary.

If I thought I had been moved by what I had already seen, my emotions were about to be completely shattered by what I was about to learn. I think we all learn a bit about World War 1 at school and take pretty much what we are taught with a pinch of salt. When you visit a place, it takes on a different meaning.

The Ossuary is like many a memorial to those killed in World War 1, but unlike the others this is to remember those killed on both sides. The building contains the bones of 130 000 unknown troops which are stored behind windows that are located around the building. A bit shocking at first to look at but after you get to grips with the horrors they went through, you start to get what this place is about.

We were invited inside to watch a special showing of their film but in English, in the cinema which we were given to ourselves. By the end of it, none of us could utter a single word before the end of the credits and the doors had opened inviting us to leave. The silence was quite eerie.

Suddenly the point of our holiday on the bikes, the roads, the banter, the endless lining up of the bikes to get that perfect photo that we had all just been taking had become irrelevant. We were all wandering off in different directions just thinking to ourselves. It was very difficult to hold back tears.

The film really did portray the futility and shear horror of going to war. You saw the troops being told that they would not be returning as they boarded their trucks to the front line.... and they all climbed aboard with smiles and thumbs up knowing that within a few hours they would be dead. It was so shocking/futile but very moving. I could go on and on but all I can say is if you are in north eastern France – go! Whilst it may seem morbid and not the happiest way to spend a break away with the lads, you really do stop and think how bloody lucky we are to have the lifestyle we have, to live the life we live, and have the choices we that we can make. I don’t think I will ever take for granted what my grandfather, who lost his leg in this area (one of the lucky ones!) and my father in WW2 and all their colleagues fought for!

Just as a thought provoker.......

Total troops mobilised by all countries in WW1 = 65,038,810
Total troops dead from all countries in WW1 = 8,556,315
Total troops wounded from all countries in WW1 = 21,219,452
Total missing or POWs = 7,750,946
The total number of people killed during WW1 (including civilians) is 16.5 million.

SO!.....after that diversion.....IT WAS ON WITH THE TRIP!!
As you can imagine that night we had a very different type of evening....still good food, and consumption of a good percentage of the towns wine, and then the banter returned!!

Monday – Our penultimate day – the last day of biking without luggage - so we had to make it count!
We were up bright and early, the bikes fuelled the night before and yet another route was planned on excellent variety of good quality roads. I don’t know how the French do it but even the majority of back roads are excellently maintained (take note GB!!).

It was time for swaps again, and I got my first chance of riding the S1000RR. What a bike. Pete has had everything done to it that can be. It is the all sing and dancing dream of a bike. As soon as I pulled away, I was amazed at how easy and friendly it was to ride. I was fortunate on two counts, firstly I was riding it on probably the best part of the route, and secondly the group somehow got split up and so an additional 20 odd miles was had as we attempted to meet up again.

I really can’t put into words how good this bike is. As the revs pass 9k, you feel the front wheel start to lift and no sooner this happens, then it gently goes back down! With the throttle nailed open, the quickshifter was so smooth compared to some others I have experienced! I was just laughing and laughing! However aggressive I tried to be, the bike seems to pre-empt my thoughts and duly corrected my hamfistedness! Every bend I went round, I wanted to go back and do it again faster..I loved it.......but ....not quite enough to want one....! I think the only thing I could say against it is that it does feel like riding a GSXR rather than a European bike. We came across one of those wide open roads with not a side road, nor a gate, nor a building or hedge in site. Before I knew it a Busa came hammering passed and I set off in chase maxing each gear. I won’t tell you what speed I got up to, only it wasn’t flat out....but it was pretty close to it!...I didn’t get passed the Busa, but I didn’t need to. I had learnt enough. The bike was 100&#37; stable whatever, and when we stopped shortly after, it settled back to the even idle it had started with. Its just built for one thing!

We stopped at yet another memorial. This one was erected for the American troops who served in the Battle of St Mihiel which they captured with the aim of taking the town of Metz which they didn’t achieve. But either we had maxed out on WW1 and memorials or we were back on a high with bikes, we spent most of this stop doing a photo shoot of the bikes, riders, helmets...you name it we photographed it....we were back to taking the piss out of each other again!

It was whilst manoeuvring my MV into prime position for 'the' pic when I thought I could smell coolant. On checking the bottom part of the fairing I could see that tell tale trail emitting from one of the vents. Sod It!! I was only too aware of what this meant. The radiator had split up in the top corner. I checked the coolant level which was between min and max so no great worries initially. We were about 50 miles south of Verdun. I decided to cut the ride short and head back to the hotel. We had approx 500 miles to do the next day, so I didn’t want to make anything any worse. This was the first year I had not taken out European Breakdown!....Sods Law! By the time I had got back to the hotel the expansion tank was empty. It took 1.5 litres to fill. This was not looking good.

Tuesday
All loaded up, I set off with a couple of the others early armed with 3 lires of water in my back pack. I had removed the cover over the expansion tank so that I monitor the level. I kept to about 70mph, the weather was cool and the temp gauge was reading 74c. After about 25 miles, I glanced down and couldn’t see any coolant. I stopped, and topped it up with about &#190; litres of water, and continued. After numerous stops I concluded that the rate I was losing coolant was pretty steady, so decided to up the pace to see if I could cover more miles between top ups. It was imperative though that I made sure the level didnit drop below the rad sensor.

The increase in speed seemed to work as I was now achieving 40 miles before I needed a refill. Trouble was that as I was using water to refill and therefore diluting the coolant, I could no longer see the fluid in the bottle, so next fill up at a garage I bought coolant and mixed it with the water. Things were further complicated as the route was now passing through never ending towns and villages, and each time I slowed the temp rocketed. Suddenly I regretted not using the Peage Auto-Routes. The other guys caught up and two of the Busa’s took the lead. Amazingly with the two bikes in front, the temp went up to 86c. I retook the lead and aimed for the motorway.

Thankfully with the weather being cool and a drizzly rain, the temp kept well down. I religiously stopped at 45 miles and was now putting in about 2 litres! My left foot was getting wetter and wetter and yellow or green depending upon what colour coolant I put in. Anyway, I was glad to see those signs for the ferry port and I eventually made it to Calais. I contemplated doing the English part of the journey in the back of an AA van, but thought...nah the old girl has got me back to Calais, I should at last give her the opportunity to get me home.....which she duly did!!

The break was like the rest of my annual trips a great one except from the radiator going....and this is my second!
I contacted the dealer whilst I was on the ferry and explained that whilst the bike was out of warranty, I felt that MV had an obligation to replace as this is clearly a design fault. My out of warranty claim has gone in and hopefully I will hear from them in the near future. Thankfully I still have my Tiger to ride over the next few weeks.

my gallery:
http://gallery.mvagusta.net/hutt4913/france20102/

Interesting sites:
http://www.ww1battlefields.co.uk/verdun/douaumont.html
http://www.webmatters.net/france/ww1...n_ossuaire.htm
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The wife said "Go buy some Art"...
...................__O
................_-\<,_\
...............(_)/ (_)
I bought art.....MV Art!
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post #3 of 6 (permalink) Old 06-10-2010, 06:34 PM
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Fantastic to read this...and great to see the respect for the battles lost and won, and lives given in this part of the world! My family and I visit this area quite frequently. Having stood on the spot where my Great Uncle (27BN 1st AIF) won a Military Cross in 1918, halfway between Villers and Amiens, I can attest to the beauty and awe of this part of the world!! Great stuff, inspiring, and I hope you get that F4 radiator looked after!!

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"A Tiger doesn't lose sleep over the opinion of sheep"
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post #4 of 6 (permalink) Old 06-12-2010, 06:52 AM
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Thanks for the post, I liked the pictures as well!
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post #5 of 6 (permalink) Old 06-13-2010, 08:13 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for your comments, it makes the writing up of such a report all worthwhile.
Cheers

The wife said "Go buy some Art"...
...................__O
................_-\<,_\
...............(_)/ (_)
I bought art.....MV Art!
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post #6 of 6 (permalink) Old 06-14-2010, 07:52 PM
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Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience.
The house where I grew up in Belgium was built on 7 bomb craters, so I've lived some of these experiences myself. WWI was brutal.
As a kid I played with *real* bajonets...which I dug up from our yard.

By the way - you're lucky the bike didn't go down after spraying coolant all over the place. I would have seriously considered not riding it.

Yves
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Last edited by yves; 06-14-2010 at 07:55 PM.
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