Somme 2016: Day Two - Kathryn's history blog

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Somme 2016: Day Two

(I have still not solved yesterday's photo problem but you can find all my snaps over on twitter @kt_kit_kat. I'll add them here once I've got better internet)
This morning started slowly as I overslept by an hour and a half. I must have been tired yesterday! Christine, my host at the B&B, made me a delicious breakfast which included homemade bread and yogurt. That got me fuelled up for the day ahead!

Refreshed and well-fed, I headed out by bike to Serre Road No. 1 cemetery. Here, I stopped at the grave of Sydney Cornock of Wotton-under-Edge and Berkeley.  He is interestingly one of only a few soldiers in the graveyard who share their gravestone. Both his and the one next to it list four names each, each of men of the Gloucestershire Regiment who died on 25th October 1916. Sydney had been an agent to the Prudential and had volunteered for war despite having (at least) two children, Muriel and Maurice, aged 6 and 5 at the outbreak.
Like Serre Road 2 which I visited yesterday, this is a concentration cemetery begun in 1917 and finished after the war. The Gloucestershire men like Sydney would all have been moved here from a previous resting place in a small battlefield burial ground. Next door is a French national cemetery which was begun in 1919. It contains the burials of French men found around the Serre and Hebuterne area but largely focuses on when this area was in the French sector in 1915. Between 7th and 13th June the French had attacked and won the fortified Ferme de Toutvent (Windy farm?) behind the modern cemetery to create the front thine that would be be attacked by the British a year later.
I then walked round to Sheffield Memorial Park down the very rough farm track. This small replanted woodland is scattered with memorials to the pals battalions of Sheffield and Accrington who attacked from here on 1st July. There is no real order to their placement and it makes an interesting, quiet spot to stop and reflect.
Around the park there are four small battlefield cemeteries: Serre Road 3, Railway Holloway,  Queen's, and Luke Copse. The latter is named after one of the four copses that had stood on this ground during the war. They were named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John after the Apostles by the Allies when they occupied them. Mark Copse was on the ground where the trees of Sheffield Park now stand.
Luke Copse cemetery is very interesting for the layout of the graves which are all tightly packed in against one side. It must be assumed that the cemetery was once short on space, but in the modern grounds this looks odd. As I visited the cemeteries a number of coach trips arrived which somewhat put and end to the peace. It was much busier than yesterday.
I then cycled the four miles over to Newfoundland Park, stopping on the way to look at the Beaumont Memorial to its villagers which is a carved statue of a woman carrying a dead soldier. It was a lot more striking than many British memorials.
I also stopped at Ancre British Cemetery which is built into the hill above the road. It has an imposing stone front, with the Stone of Remembrance on a plinth above the steps which access the cemetery. Not very practical for use as an altar but it creates a good focal point both from the cemetery and from the road and railway below.
Newfoundland Park was busy with lots of visitors, including one family originally from Dursley (they recognised my Dursley Road Club cycling jersey). The main attraction of this park is the trench system trench system which remains. It has been allowed to grass over and naturally fill in as a result of being cordoned off from the public. It is fascinating  to see the original trench lines and how they all interconnected. There are also trenches you can walk in but these have been 'modernised' with boards and safety ropes.
At the picnic benches outside the park I met a coach trip from Northern Ireland who were on their way to conduct a ceremony at the nearby Ulster Tower. As this was my next stop, I joined them there to watch it. They were predominantly Ulster men from a fishing town (I didn't catch the name) and were dedicating a traditional Irish army drum to the Tower.  The drum was at least a metre in diameter and was beaten on both sides by bendy bamboo sticks. The faces of two of the town's Great War fallen had been beautifully painted on the edge. The ceremony was remarkable, with a bagpiper playing Amazing Grace, the Ulstermen  heartily singing God Save the Queen and then taking it in turns to play the drum. The sound it made was spectacular and must have echoed right across the valley of fields from where their forebearers in 36th Ulster Division had attacked on 1st July.
Next I rode to Pozieres for lunch at the Tommy Café which has an Australian theme, and then to the 1st Division Australian Memorial. This unit had first served at Gallipoli before being moved to the Somme in 1916 so it was no stranger to a bloody battle.
Slightly further down the road is the Pozieres Memorial and Cemetery. This beatuiful cemetery is surrounded by a memorial wall to the men of the Fourth and Fifth Armies whose bodies were missing in the Spring attack of March and April 1918. Among the 14,000 are George Addle and Reuban Thomas of Coaley, William Elliott of North Nibley, Cecil Long of Uley, Frank Smith of Cam,  and Herbert Woodbine of Dursley. Steven Challen of Stinchcombe is also buried in the cemetery, having died in July 1916.
I then continued along the Route de Bapaume to the village of La Boisselle. This is the original line of the Roman Road which connected Albert and Bapaume and as such, is perfectly straight. To the soldiers of the First World War they valley to the south was known as Sausage Valley and the one to the north Mash Valley.  Today, there were really strong crosswinds which made it a difficult cycle, particularly when lorries and coaches went past.
La Boisselle was captured by 48th division on 3rd July, having originally been a target for the initial hours of 1st July. As such it is the site where many men from the 5th battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, which included the Dursley Territorials, first entered the Battle of the Somme. Fred Gardner of Berkeley is buried at Gordon Dump to the east of the village. He had served in the 10th Glosters and had died on 12th July. His body was most likely moved to this cemetery after the war.
On the other side of the village is the Lochnager Crater, known to the French as 'le Grand Mine'. I have visited this mine crater twice before but had forgotten the sheer scale of the hole. Just before the attack on the 1st July this mine was blown using 72,000lbs of ammonal to clear a hole in the German defences. Since my previous visits as lot of work has been done to preserve the site, including the building of a wooden path around the craters circumference but the spirit of the memorial remains the same, dedicated to both the British and German troops whole fought and died on this land.
Despite being 5pm this was by far the hottest part of the day and the sun beat down as I sat on one of the memorial benches. Lacking water, I cycled back to the B&B, having had another enriching day on the battlefields.

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