Archive for Somme

As with the area close to Ypres, there are so many cemeteries, repeatedly down small, muddy roads. My 1st intended destination was the Hawthorn Crater. This was one of the mines which was detonated below the German front line at the outset of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The explosion was recorded on film and is routinely shown in documentaries about the Battle of the Somme. After driving around for a little bit, I came across the Newfoundland Park Memorial & Visitors Centre and stopped to have a look.

This is a portion of the British and Canadian Lines on 1st July 1916 when the Battle of the Somme began. Some of the trenches are very well maintained and from the Caribou Monument, you’re able to get an excellent understanding of the landscape and the direction of assault. It’s also frighteningly apparent how far the troopers were expected to move over open ground in the face of cannon and machine guns.

At Newfoundland Park, I was given directions to help me locate the Hawthorn Crater and as it happened I’d driven right by it. It wasn’t long before I got back and found the access point via a muddy field. Initially I was hesitant but decided it was a part of the experience. I got to the lip of the crater but it was very over grown so I didn’t venture too far and I was soon going to my next point of interest, Ulster Tower. This is a memorial to the Ulster Regiments that conducted themselves so well on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Nearby is the Thiepval Memorial which is the largest British War Memorial on earth. Every 1st July, an important commemoration is held here in memory of the dead. The memorial can be seen from quite a distance and addititionally there is a motivating visitors centre with information regarding the battles fought here.

Some distance away is the South African Memorial at Delville Wood. It was dedicated to all South African battles, not just those in The Great War. As with all the memorials, Delville Wood is sacred ground but I found it in particular to be very serene and appropriate. I’m not really sure what made Delville Wood stand out for me but for me, there was just something a bit distinctive about this spot.

My last stop of the day was a quick one at the place to the east of Amiens where the Red Baron was shot down. There isn’t really much to see apart from a little notice board by the side of the road. The site is situated by a local factory with a prominent chimney. The story of the Red Baron is certainly one of the very first I heard about regarding The Great War hence despite the fact that there wasn’t very much to look at, it had been something that I wanted to do. The Red Baron was a German fighter ace called Baron Manfred von Richthofen. From 1916 – 1918, he shot down a total of 80 Allied aircraft and was finally shot down but ground fire from an Australian unit on 21 April 1918.

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1st July 1916 saw the Allies launched an extensive offensive along a 25 mile section of the Western Front. The attack took place to the north of the River Somme in rural France. Little villages are littered throughout the region along with the town of Albert. It was to be the battle that for plenty of people, characterized the horrors of the trench warfare of The Great War.

The Battle of the Somme lasted nearly 4 months with very little reward for Britain and her Allies. The casualties endured by each side were horrific; the British Army sustained 420,000 killed and wounded, the French 200,000 and the Germans roughly half a million.

The German soldiers were dug in deep and strategically held the more favourable ground hence it was obvious an enormous effort would be essential to make inroads into their lines. The plan was to lay down an artillery bombardment for seven days leading up to the attack. Furthermore, plenty of mines were laid beneath the German lines. It was predicted that the mines and artillery would bring about such destruction, Britain and her Allies would only need to advance over no mans land and occupy the trenches. Disastrously, this was definitely not the case.

For 7 days just before the assault, a thunderous barrage was laid down by the Alllies firing 1.7m shells. Bear in mind, the German trenches were dug deep into the earth delivering them with relative safety from the barrage. The mines did lead to deaths and injuries as intended but generally, the Germans had enough time to gear up their defences after the artillery ceased and the Allies went over the top.

All along the line, the story was the same. Brave men went over the top and were mown down before getting anywhere close to their objectives. At Beaumont Hamel, only 68 of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, ended the day unharmed out of around 800 men. At La Boisselle, the Tyneside Irish was almost destroyed as it tried to move forward more than 1 mile over open ground in full sight of German machine guns.

Nevertheless, there were some successes. The French soliders had made progress in the north and south of the lines. The 36th Ulster advanced on and took the Schwaben Redoubt consequently becoming undoubtedly one of the few to get to their objective. However, running short on ammunition, German counter attacks made the Ulstermen to withdraw later that night.

The 1st day of the Somme had cost the British almost 54,000 casualties, 21,000 of those being killed. Today, the site of the Schwaben Redoubt is marked by the Ulster Tower and not far away at Thiepval, the Memorial to the Missing commemorates the names of about 70,000 soldiers who fought at the Battle of the Somme.

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