It is 6 April 1982. We are in a cafe in Megève, just north of Italy’s Alpine border with France, having some coffee before setting off across the snowy Alps. Opposite us, a man is reading a newspaper whose headline says something like “Thatcher invia flotta da guerra per le Falkland”. I have no Italian, but the meaning was clear – Thatcher sends battle fleet to the Falklands.
I don’t remember how many days we had been driving to reach Megève. The pictures shows that we visited several Great War cemeteries – British, French and German – and stopped at Reims and Dole en route.
I suspect that we had left England before the Argentine invasion of the Falklands on 2 April and had no reason to expect that a British battle fleet would set off southwards. In those pre-internet days, the newspaper headline was our first news of the fact that we were at war. You would only capture that degree of remoteness now by having O2 as your mobile data provider and be travelling outside the major UK cities.
It has been quite interesting trying to reconstruct our route with only a handful of photographs to guide me. The only reason I know that the cafe was in Megève is that I took a picture of it with my bright yellow Ford Escort outside it.
I tracked it down it because the café name is legible and the wonders of Google Maps and StreetView took me to it. It is unchanged, right down to the name board and the clutter around the door. Everything around it has been knocked down and replaced with ctEurotat.
Reims, Dole, Florence and Siena are easily identifiable in the pictures I took of them, and would probably have been recognisable from C19th lithographs.
It took me a while to find this place which, to judge both by its appearance and its place between cemeteries in the sequence of pictures, is in northern France close to the Western Front.
I eventually identified it as Armentieres. The modern picture below suggest that time and the planners have not been kind to it, but the white stones on the rounded end of the building on the right show that the pictures come almost from the same place.
Places can recover, even from town planners. The picture below the modern one shows the square on Christmas Day 1914. The British had driven the Germans out on 17 October and the front line settled a little to the east nearly to the end of the war.
One day I will try and identify the cemeteries which appear from my old pictures. One was sparing with the number of pictures taken back then, because you had to buy the film and pay to have the results developed. Today I would take hundreds of pictures and would have a GPS record of their locations.