On the second morning of our Western Front trip we awoke about 8:00 to a sunnier day with plans to get on the road about 9:00. On our itinerary our first stop of the day was planned to be the Wellington Quarry but L had found a unique Commonwealth War Graves cemetery that we decided we’d like to see so we headed there first instead. The name of this cemetery is Zivy Crater.
With 48 identified casualties, Zivy Crater is one of two mine craters used by the Canadian Corps in 1917 for burying the bodies of the soldiers that died on the Vimy Battlefield. It’s essentially a mass grave with a total of 53 World War I burials. Unlike other Commonwealth cemeteries that have headstones to identify those buried there, Zivy Crater has panels on the wall surrounding the crater with the names of those buried there inscribed on them. Also in the walls are shards of rock that reminded me of oyster shells and were really beautiful.
In addition to being only one of two Commonwealth cemeteries in a mine crater, Zivy Crater is also only one of two in a circular shape. The other cemetery that shares this distinction with Zivy Crater is called Lichfield Crater which is nearby with 15 graves.
After our visit we decided it was time to get a quick breakfast, especially so L won’t have to see what happens when I get ‘hangry’. McDonald’s seemed like just the thing for a quick and “we know what we’ll get” breakfast… except we didn’t know what we’d get because when we finally found one they didn’t have any sausage and egg McMuffins on the menu! Quelle horreur! And then, to add insult to injury, they didn’t have hash browns either! What the heck? What kind of a McDonald’s did they think they were running here? As it turns out- a delicious one! We ended up with a beef burger patty with bacon on an English muffin and it is even tastier than sausage McMuffins. Had I known they’d be so tasty I would have at least gotten the actual name so I could tell you what it was, but I didn’t. Sadly we’ll likely never get them again. C’est dommage.
About this point we decided it was time to get ourselves back on schedule and visit our original first stop of the day- the Wellington Quarry.
Opened as an underground museum in 2008, the Wellington Quarry is just one part of many kilometers of tunnels that were dug by the British Army in WWI. They connect up with other tunnels and quarries under the city of Arras, including the ones we had visited the day before at Les Boves that were used in the Battle of Arras in 1917.
The tunnels and rooms were dug out mainly by the tunnelers of the New Zealand Division, and were additions to the ancient tunnels and pits already in place. To modernize them during war times they were fitted with water, electricity, and even a hospital with enough space for 700 men and an operating room. On our guided tour we saw many remnants and reminders of the thousands of French and British soldiers and townspeople who spent time living in these spaces such as mining trucks and equipment, bottles and tins, and drawings and ‘graffiti’ on the walls.
The name of the quarry came from the New Zealanders who worked in this area and named it after their capital city. To help them orientate themselves underground they gave other sections names from their home country such as Auckland and Nelson. The British soldiers also had sections that they named for their home country – Glasgow, Manchester, and Liverpool. By envisioning these real cities on a map they could get their bearings underground.
In addition to providing underground shelter from the war, the tunnels were used to prepare for a surprise attack by the British as they tunneled their way underground to pop up close to the front lines. For the eight days preceding the battle there were 24,000 soldiers stationed in these tunnels readying themselves to burst forth from the earth and take the Germans by surprise. This battle was coordinated to occur at the same times as the Canadians stormed Vimy Ridge.
The guided tour offered at Wellington Quarry does a fantastic job of telling the stories of life underground and battle preparations. Before our tour we watched a brief movie about the Battle of Arras which set the stage for our tour. We then donned our very snazzy safety hats and headsets and our guide zipped us 20 m below ground level in an elevator.
To help protect the tunnels there is very little light but it isn’t really needed as the walkway is very well constructed and easy to walk on. As we slowly made our way along the tunnels the lights would come on to illuminate a section where we’d hear a story told by our guide and/or the audio guide that was set to come on at all the right times. You can choose the language for your audio guide and the live guide did our tour in French and English. The audio guide provided the sound for short movies that played along the way too so everything was very easy to understand. Once each story was told the lights would fade to darkness again and we’d know it was time to make our way to the next stop.
One of the very last stops on the half-hour tour was Exit #10. It was up this sloping passageway that thousands of soldier climbed up to the light above ground, up to the raging battle, and tragically, up to their death.
Open daily from 10:00-12:30 and 13:30-18:00 except January 1, June 27-29, and three weeks following Christmas holidays
Location: Rue Delétoile, 62000 Arras || Phone: 03 21 51 26 95 || Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Parking: Free parking is available
There are public toilets and a gift shop on-site.