Day 5 11th April. The Somme 1916 – Pozieres - Beaumont Hamel - Thiepval
Today was the start of the WW1 story on the former battlefields of the Somme. Our guide for the next three days would be Jackie Bedford and her passion and expertise was very soon evident. Our Connecting Spirits groups have worked with both Jackie and her husband Rod since 2004 and a close and valued relationship has grown over the last decade with this fabulous couple. Jackie gave a potted history of the First World War from its complicated origins through to its final end in 1918 to set the scene for the next few days. The places where so much horror and loss would unfold over the four long years such as Pozieres, Lochnagar Crater, Mouquet Farm and Thiepval Memorial soon started to impact on our group. The morning however took on an unexpected turn when we got to Mouquet Farm, a place where massive loss of life cut many units to ribbons. The nature of the fighting in this place during the dark days of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 was bloody, brutal hand to hand combat. Here the Australian war historian Charles Bean made the iconic statement …’ The Windmill site at Pozieres marks a ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifices than any other place on earth.’
Unlike previous tours when we commemorated Arthur Walker at Villers Bretonneux memorial, Mal decided to do it at Mouquet Farm where it is thought Walker was killed. And then a moment took our collective breath away…this was NOT expected. Trae Rigney stood before us and shared the story of this young Ngarrindjeri soldier but at the end of his commemoration Trae’s personal reflection about his man, had many of us in tears. To see how far Connecting Spirits had come over the last decade was incredibly satisfying. Thank you Trae for taking us onto another level.
From here we made our way to Beaumont Hamel, where the Canadian Government have maintained a memorial park. It was here on the 1st July 1916 that the Newfoundland Battalion attacked on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, suffering horrendous casualties. The whole area of their attack was purchased by the Canadians, and the land remains largely as it was that day 99 years ago. The trench lines are still clearly evident as are the original iron posts that held the barbed wire, and of course the ever present shell holes remain. As we walk around the park it becomes evident that the task set to these brave men was always going to cost dearly in lives, and unfortunately was not achieved on that day. With Jackie’s expert commentary the battle is brought to life for us, and we can almost hear the machine gun bullets zinging over head as we take cover in the dead ground.
Next stop was lunch at the Ulster Tower, with fantastic fresh baguettes and cake. This is just a short drive from Thiepval, where the massive memorial to the British “lost” of the Somme are remembered with over 70000 names on the walls. It is under this huge edifice that Julie read an extract from the novel “Birdsong”, a description that perfectly sums up the impact that the memorial has on anyone that sees it, even for the 5th time.
After some shopping for souvenirs in the visitors centre, we made our way back to Amiens via the London Division which features a soldier saying farewell to his dying horse. It took some time to remove Nigel and Mollie from this memorial.