Tuesday, September 8, 2015
On the Somme
I may have made mention before, but throughout my secondary school education, I did not receive a single History Lesson. The "Mad Monk" Keith Joseph was in charge of education at the time, and history was deemed to be a bit of a duff subject with no relevance to the future.
Keith was known for this kind of thing, give him a google he said some interesting things.
Anyway, we received a kind invitation to tour the WW1 sites from a couple well versed in such matters, which we were keen to accept. Because yes Keith, History is not only interesting, it is important, and was sourced firstly from Ladybird books (no longer available) through Asterix (thankfully available) to the miracle of internet (one of its principle virtues)
A Canadian, he had been inspired to write "In Flanders Fields" after the death of his pal at Ypres in 1915. McCrae died of Pneumonia in 1918, while in command of a military hospital at Boulogne, and the visit was particularly apposite for Madam as they had been studying the poem at school only last year.
On down to Etaples, a new name on us, but the site of the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in France. It's of Lutyen's design and of the 11'500 soldiers interred, over 10'000 were casualties of WW1. The area was the site of many military hospitals and many nations from both sides are represented.
Beer, Frites and Coffee in Le Touquet and a quick peruse of a super market, before the heavens opened and we made our charge for Amiens. Where we filled the car with diesel and wine, ate an excellent meal alongside the Somme, slept, breakfasted before resuming our tour at 8.32am the next day.
Of the 9 VC's awarded to British soldiers in the battle, 4 were awarded to soldiers of the Ulster Division.
On the first day of the battle of the Somme, several mines were detonated beneath the German front lines. The logistics of setting these mines are incredible, with tunnels being dug with small hand tools over a distance of many hundreds of yards, and the spoil generated disposed off without detection from spotter planes.
The subsequent explosion was heard at home, and the substantial crater remains as an inverse monument to the first day of the Somme. The accompanying photograph does not do justice to the site, it is very difficult to take a photo of a big hole in the ground without the use of an aeroplane, helicopter or kite for which I apologise.
And so to Delville Wood, and the South African Memorial. The scene of intense fighting throughout the summer of 1916, it's worth a google (and well done again the internet) after a couple of months of fighting, like so many places on the Somme it was reduced to muddy holes and a series of stumps.
and made for the memorial to the four Canadian Divisions who successfully took the ridge in 1917 after a brilliantly planned and courageous attack in which three and a half thousand Canadian soldiers lost their lives and twice as many were injured.
Half way through the afternoon, I went a little quiet.
Apologies for another post completely free of fishing, but this guff started out as a means of remembering what I am supposed to be doing from day to day, and I had to write something down for no other reason than for myself. If the tone slipped into the flippant at any point, I apologise, but flippancy and irreverence are qualities that I value about living in a "Free Society" and for that I give thanks, and will now, never forget.
A million words wouldn't do justice to the actual impact of visiting these places and once again, well done The Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Thanks again it was a terrific trip, and I hope this proves that I was listening.