Tag Archives: Somme 100

Headstone bearing inscriptions showing that Frederick John Holbrook, CAS Pratt and HM Atkinson are buried beneath

Centenary trip continued

On arrival in Lille we headed to our hotel (for background, see my previous post, and then had a bit of a wander. The centre is quite attractive, with numerous bars lining the large squares. There’s a huge war memorial, which commemorates all the wars of the 20th century involving France, the two world wars, plus involvement in Indo-China (Vietnam) and North Africa. Then the bars were calling us, and we chose one just under the Chamber of Commerce named (aptly) “La Cloche” (The Bell). A bit more of a wander around the old quarter, then bed.

On Saturday morning we headed back towards the station to pick up a hire car. Unexpectedly the car park exit brought us out onto a different road to where the car hire office was, throwing my carefully prepared maps into disarray, this would prove a bit of a them for the day, one way or another. Fortunately I guessed right that the signs for Paris would set us off in the right direction. We then set off down the A1 without further incident until reaching the 2000 metre warning sign for the Bapaume junction. Somehow though I then managed to sail straight past the junction itself, leaving us with no choice but to carry on to the next one.

From the bypass around Albert we headed north towards Pozières, hoping to get to Tank Corps Memorial and Windmill site before the road was closed for the Australian commemorations due to take place in the village later in the day. Driving through the village we seemed to get a glimpse of the reburial of three unknown Australians at Pozières British Cemetery. As we drove through the village, it became evident that the turning for Thiepval was already closed. We parked at the Tank Corps Memorial, marking the first employment of tanks on 15 September 1916. Just south of the memorial was a lovely verge, fittingly full of poppies and cornflowers (bleuets, the French flower of remembrance). Over the road is the site of the ancient windmill, standing on the highest point in the immediate area, finally captured by Australian troops on 29 July 1916, and now the site of an Australian memorial. From here we also got our first glimpse of “Mighty Thiepval” standing a few miles away East-North-East. The field adjacent to the memorial has just been inaugurated as the Pozières Memorial Park, and currently contains crosses arranged in the shape of the Australian Imperial Force’s Rising Sun badge, one cross for each Australian killed in the capture of Pozières. The badge points more-or-less toward Thiepval.


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The Somme begins

07:30 (on the new “summer time”) approaches. There’s a subtle shift in the sound of the gunfire and shell explosions as the guns shift their targets along the 14 mile British section of the trench. The ground shakes, and an immense roar goes up as huge mines are exploded under sections of the German lines: some of the largest man made (non-nuclear) explosions ever.
Then officers blow their whistles, men clamber up ladders onto the parapet of their trenches, and begin to move into no man’s land. 
Soon almost 20,000 will be dead, and adding the wounded, prisoners and missing, the casualty list reaches towards 60,0000.
Men of the Surrey Association must have been among those taking part in the advance, though I’ve not attempted to draw up a list (and none of those on the roll of honour died that day). Certainly (as we shall see in a few days) they have been involved in the preliminary bombardment and other supporting roles. 

Of the wider set of Surrey ringers only Sidney Bowler Weatherston of Southwark will fall this day. But after today there will still be 140 more days of fighting before the generals call time on the Battle of the Somme.