The glorious dead

Lionel and his grave
Lionel and his grave

Part of the fun when driving in France for a weekend visit, is the lack of traffic when zooming along the departmental or countryside roads.

Many have been upgraded over the years and make a pleasant but sometimes hairy alternative to Les Autoroutes where one tends to get tailgated by a Citroen C3 – back in the day it would have been a Renault 4 van.

Nowadays you can pretty much drive quite fast without those pesky French drivers hooting you when trying to overtake at 80mph or the equivalent in kilometres an hour.

The D939 is a wonderful stretch of tarmac which starts just inland of the swish resort of Le Touquet. Breezing at speed in the countryside in late June, I collected a multitude of dead insects on my front grill and windscreen – a sort of motoring atavism as English drivers no longer have the pleasure of “windscreen splatter” as pesticides on this side of the Channel have killed off many of our roadside bugs.

The route leads on to the prefecture of the Pas-de-Calais, Arras and then onwards to Cambrai.

Both towns are synonymous with the 1914-18 conflict and along the route departmental there are numerous references and signs denoting various war graves.

Many come under the auspices of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. One such CWG is the one at Aubigny en Artois.


Many former Canadian soldiers were laid to rest there along with members of the French and British armed forces.

This was my second visit, the last time being in the early 1990’s. My mother’s uncle is buried there.

Lionel Altman was only 18 when he succumbed to his wounds in June 1917.

My uncle Lionel was named after him upon his arrival in 1922 and it was my second visit to this beautiful and tranquil place.

One can only imagine what horror this young man went through together with the terrible privations, fear and pain he would have suffered.

The previous day was spent in Amiens where the Allies defeated the German forces in a resounding victory in August 1918.

Lionel’s grave

On the outskirts of town, there is Amiens prison which was attacked by Mosquito bombers of the RAF in Operation Jericho which took place in February, 1944.

The destruction of the main prison wall allowed many members of the French underground to escape ahead of the D-Day invasion a few months later.

The day was rounded off by a visit to the Battle of the Somme Museum in the quaint little town of Albert and the breathtaking Somme memorial at Thiepval.

My father saw service in Burma in WW2 and his father, my grandfather Jack, was one of the only recorded five Jewish brothers from these shores to have served and survived WW1.

Their group photograph is in most versions of the AJEX memorial “Blue Book”.

Next month, I will have the privilege and honour of marching with my late father’s medals once again at the Cenotaph with AJEX (Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women) on two successive Sunday’s.

The Remembrance Sunday parade at the Cenotaph this year falls on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, exactly one hundred years since the cessation of hostilities.

The AJEX parade takes place one week later and I implore as many members of the Jewish community to come down and support us at Whitehall.

One can’t overemphasise the importance of paying one’s respect to those who fought gallantly for this country and for the many Jewish servicemen and women whose lives were cut short so we could have a life and a future.





About the Author
Jeremy Jacobs runs a sales consultancy and is a conference speaker and presenter. Born in Margate, he has lived in London for many years.
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