While we continue to follow Charles Palmer to the Front we decided to take some time out to visit a few sites on the Somme. In my mind these, like Ypres, are foundational sites that can’t be overlooked when trying to understand this war.
Our first stop on the Somme was at the Australian National Memorial and Military Cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux. The imposing structure of the Memorial embraces in its giant arms the names of 10,982 soldiers who died without a known grave. The Cemetery lies to the front of the Memorial and is the resting place for a further 2,041 soldiers. It sits overlooking the lush French landscape and, yet again, the scale of the loss is strongly felt. I was asked by a friend to find her husband’s Great Uncle on the Memorial and I was so pleased to be able to do this for her, and to stand and give this man, among the many others, thanks for the sacrifice he made.
The Australian Government is currently building an educational centre behind the Memorial. It is due to be opened in 2018. The addition of two huge cranes makes the site even more imposing as you drive towards it.
All through this area we found sign after sign pointing to military cemeteries. It seemed that almost every road we passed lead to a cemetery. It really is just so difficult to come to terms with the enormity of loss.
The Memorial tries unsuccessfully to hide the sign of building works.
The Cemetery looks out across the landscape.
The building works at the rear of the Memorial.
The next day we visited the tiny town of La Boiselle. It was an eery landscape that presented itself as we drove along the country roads through the morning fog. As we entered the town from the direction of Albert there was a large paddock to the right full of hillocks and depressions. It didn’t take long to realise that this is typical of the scarring that would have dominated the landscape in this area during the fighting. In this case the area has been left as it was after the war rather than flattened out for farming. The resident goats rather like the high points of land.
We followed the signs to the Lochnagar Crater near the edge of the town. This crater was the result of a mine laid beneath the German lines by the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers and exploded on 1 July 1916. There was still a heavy fog so it took me by surprise when I reached the rim of the crater and could actually make out its size -nearly 90m in diameter and 30m deep (size estimates vary due to subsequent erosion of the rim, but it’s definitely big!). The land was purchased by a British man in 1978 to ensure its preservation and annual remembrance ceremonies are held there.
A very foggy crater – you will just have to believe me when I say it’s deep!
Another request from a friend took us to the Dantzig Alley British Cemetery at Mametz where we were able to photograph the grave of our friend’s Uncle. Again, it was an honour to be able to do this. Before we came on this trip I would have thought that after seeing a few war cemeteries their impact may have lessened. I was so wrong. They all evoke as strong emotions as each other and every grave marker or name carved on a memorial has a story to tell.
Dantzig Alley British Cemetery at Mametz.
Autumn colours at Mametz. (Photo credit: Trevor Hill)
We also visited the Windmill site near Pozières that saw two weeks of fighting by AIF soldiers in 1916 to take the site. No wonder then that historian, Charles Bean, said “The Windmill site … marks a ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth”.
You can still see parts of the windmill foundations at the Memorial site.
– Photos taken at Villers-Bretonneux on 25 October 2016 –
– All other photos taken on 26 October 2016 –