The Somme

Last November my wife and I took a trip to the area of Northern France known as `The Somme`. My friend and former colleague, Martin Pegler, is a historian and expert on WW1. He was formerly the curator of firearms at The Royal Armouries and has written several books on the subject, including the highly recommended “Out of Nowhere” a history of the military sniper. He now runs a B&B on The Somme, leads battlefield tours and is a keen motorcyclist. Here are some images in what is now the 100th Anniversary year of the start of The Great War.

 

2013-10-12 14.02.21

Entering the Eurotunnel train.

 

England to France in twenty minutes.

 

Thiepval

The memorial to the missing at Thiepval

Thiepval Memorial

 

2013-10-13 14.16.35The above is the Lochnagar Crater, made on July 1st 1916 by the detonation of much explosive munitions that had been tunnelled under German lines by British and Commonwealth sappers. The follow-up attack that followed was thwarted. Massive casualties for nil gain.

 

Skeletal remains and munitions continue to be unearthed in the area.

Skeletal remains and munitions continue to be unearthed in the area.

 

2013-10-13 14.18.01

2013-10-13 14.18.20

`Chums` or `Pals` regiments were common in the beginning.

`Chums` or `Pals` regiments were common in the beginning.

The `Pals` system was started when men from towns, factories, etc all joined up together and were kept together as local units. Regiments were named after their town or associations such as `Manchester Pals`. It was eventually stopped as the attrition rate was such that entire towns, villages and families had their entire menfolk obliterated, often in the space of a single mornings advance. Also, see “Thankful Villages” and also here.

 

A rare sight; 1. A German WW1 Cemetery in France 2. Note the irony of the headstone. Each cross marks 4 graves. There are 17,027 bodies here, at Fricourt

A rare sight; 1. A German WW1 Cemetery in France 2. Note the irony of the headstone. Each cross marks 4 graves. There are 17,027 bodies here, at Fricourt

Understandably, the French Government after WW1 did not want German soldiers buried on their soil.  You can read more here

 

Latrines in the underground barracks beneath the town of Arras.

Latrines in the underground barracks beneath the town of Arras.

The town of Arras has medieval caves beneath its foundations. British and Commonwealth Engineers were set to work in linking them and developing them as a barracks. When occupied they housed 24,000 soldiers. They had electricity, hospitals, in fact most things a typical barracks would have. The inter-connecting tunnels are over 6 feet high and men could walk six abreast.

One of the many form up points prior to the assault in the Spring Offensive, 1917

One of the many form up points prior to the assault in the Spring Offensive, 1917

 

The assault from the tunnels of Arras in 1917 took the Germans by surprise and they upped and ran and were driven back several miles. The British were then ordered to stop. Within 12 hours the Germans counter-attacked and re-took much of the ground. After the War a German officer who was there, said that had the British maintained their momentum they would have probably driven them to the German border. Only anecdotal, of course, but such things were not uncommon, although there was always the concern of over stretching the supply lines.

 

Beaumont-Hamel. From the British trenches towards the objective on July 1st 1916 - the treeline and horizon. They never got past the tree on the right.

Beaumont-Hamel. From the British trenches towards the objective on July 1st 1916 – the treeline and horizon. They never got past the tree on the right.

Beaumont-Hamel saw the obliteration of The Newfoundland Regiment (still British at that time, so when Britain declared war, Newfoundland was at war). Part of the assaults third wave and barely more than raw recruits, they were to advance quickly to the far ground beyond the tree line, hold, re group and then rapidly advance to the objective several miles beyond. By the time they were called to advance, all the communication/access trenches in the foreground were three deep in dead and wounded. The Newfoundlanders nevertheless advanced into withering machine gun fire. Those that weren’t cut down rallied at what was called “The Danger Tree” which is to the right of this image, just in front of the small cluster. At this RVP they found they were perfectly zeroed by the German gunners who dispatched the rest. In 30 minutes almost the entire regiment was destroyed. The next morning only 68 could report for muster. This soil is now Canadian, managed by Canada and staffed by Canadian students. It is one of the saddest, most moving places I have ever been. I am with heavy heart even  as I type this. Beaumont-Hamel, Forever Newfoundland.

2013-10-14 16.53.53

Facing North by Northwest

Facing North by Northwest

 

2013-10-14 17.42.47

A small section of Caterpillar Valley, British War Graves.

2013-10-14 17.33.02

There are over 1000 War Cemeteries in The Somme. 60% of WW1 graves contain unknown soldiers, whose remains often laid in no mans land for days, sometimes weeks, with the land subjected to artillery bombardment. I was there last November for only two days.

 

Advertisements

10 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

10 responses to “The Somme

  1. Old AF Sarge

    Dusty in here. Even a hundred years later I mourn for those lost.

    The death of an entire generation.

    The Newfoundland Memorial is particularly poignant. An entire regiment, wiped out.

    Well done HD. Well Done.

  2. Cheers Sarge. It gets to me too, just typing it up. Must be my age.

  3. Bill brandt

    I just got back from WV – 5 day trip. My 96 year old uncle died and we had to clean out his things and bury him. Among the things we found was a small flag pole (the flag was long gone after 96 years) – awarded to Gold Star mothers – my uncle’s uncle was killed in WW1 and he had kept this all those years.

    As for the “War to end all wars”….just imagine what that area with the crater would have looked like in 1917 before nature tried to heal the land. The destruction there and loss of life – we really can’t conceive it.

    Entire small towns of male war-age population – gone.

  4. I was born a Newfoundlander, Mother’s Day 44, and have attended many July 1st remembrances across Newfoundland. Almost every family was touched on July1,1916 and even today July !st is such a somber occasion for all that Canada Day celebrations are much more muted than in the rest of the country. Beaumont-Hamel is truly a sobering experience and John Kenneth Galbraith referred to the carnage in his PBS series, The Age of Uncertainty.. Newfoundland was Shanghaid on April Fools Day 1949 even though the history books say March 31st the papers were signed at Whitehall, London after midnight.

    I have a Lex story that I want to relate about a communication we had but sufficient time has not passed. One day!

  5. Dwas

    Thank you so much for this …Masterfully done..Lex would be proud..That area of France is on my bucket list..Best..

  6. Just returning to normal from 4 weeks in a new home. Thanks to you for the comments. I knew some of you would like this. An old colleague of mine lives on The Somme. He is a historian and published author of many books on related subjects, incl a great one on the history of the military sniper. Here is his latest release:

  7. Pingback: 100 years ago | The Lexicans

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s