Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Etaples - the hospitals today

I've just returned from a few days in France, where two friends and I walked the area around Etaples, Camiers and Le Touquet. We had some 1917/1919 maps of the area, showing the positions of all the hospitals, and by overlaying modern maps we had a look at the ground today. Our first stop was the museum in Etaples, where they have a room showing the town during the Great War. On one wall is a really excellent map, showing not only the positions of the hospitals, but also every hut, cookhouse, laundry and latrine! It was prepared by the Royal Engineers in 1917, but it's not one I've come across at The National Archives, and it will definitely be worth another search to try and uncover it. A great pity it wasn't possible to remove it from the museum wall, but I think they might have noticed!

Many of the sites are now covered with modern housing, and the rest either forested, scrubland, or building plots, but the layout of the roads is almost identical, so it's at least possible to say 'No.46 Stationary Hospital was here', or 'No.51 Officers' Hospital was there...'
Camiers, three or four miles north of Etaples is rather different, as it has not been subject to the same amount of building, and the old sidings running in at the side of the station, parallel to the site of the hospitals, are still there, and standing on the station bridge it's possible to let your imagination flow backwards to a time when it was filled with ambulance trains, stretchers and casualties. It was certainly an unusual few days which produced an odd assortment of photos - suburban roads, houses, dense forest and piles of builder's spoil, but well worth it for someone who wears two anoraks at a time.
One warning though - if you intend to visit Etaples, please make sure you enjoy fish. The restaurants are good - some are very good - and they are very proud of their fishing history, and their fish, and their fish market, and their fish restaurants, and the fish starters, and the fish main courses...

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