Freight Lorries stacked at Manston Airport. (Photo by William EDWARDS / AFP) (Photo by WILLIAM EDWARDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Calais, like its sibling, Dover, is a hard town to love. It is ugly and workaday and entirely without pretension. But it has been a constant in French and English history for centuries.
It was in the summer of 1346 that Edward III, one of the last English monarchs who spoke French as his first language, decided to add the French port and its hinterland, the Pas de Calais, to his realm. He had just defeated Philippe VI de Valois at the Battle of Crécy, some 50 miles south, and saw no reason why the shortest crossing from Kent to his newly extended French territories should be controlled by the French.
So, instead of sailing his army home, Edward decided to lay siege to Calais. He blockaded the port and stationed his troops in the surrounding marshland. His proclamation was a simple one: surrender or die. But the good folk of Calais were in no mood to give in. They withstood the siege, smuggling in what food and supplies they could, resorting in the end to eating grass and rats.