Autumn Battlefields 2019 - Day Four: Montauban and Longueval - Kathryn's history blog

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Autumn Battlefields 2019 - Day Four: Montauban and Longueval


This morning I decided to walk from the B&B where I'm staying at Bernafay Wood, using the Montauban Walk route from Paul Reed's book Walking the Somme. This is my favourite book for battlefields routes as it gives a lot of detail of what to see on the walk. In the book the route starts in Carnoy and goes up to Montauban, but I started in the middle and walked down to Carnoy.

This walk covers the successful line of attack of the 18th and 30th Divisions from the First Day of the Somme and their capture of Montauban. My first stop was at the memorial to the Liverpool and Manchester Pals who took the village on that day. This is a modern memorial, built by the Western Front Association, marking their actions in this area.

Next, I walked out across the battlefield over which they advanced, facing down to the British lines. The countryside here is gently rolling and I was walking generally downhill. I didn't get too far down the lane before, looking back at Montauban, the landscape looked flat: a number of small dips are hidden from the general line of sight.

The landscape here is dotted with a number of woodlands of varying sizes. Most of these existed, in some form, during the First World War, although throughout the conflict they became increasingly destroyed by artillery. I passed by German's Wood, one of the smaller ones, just beyond which had been the German front lines and then on to Machine Gun Wood, on the British position. The route then came across a trench the British had rather appropriately named 'Battle Street', before coming into Carnoy village.

Here I visited Carnoy Military Cemetery, the one cemetery on this walk. This had been used by field ambulances during the battle and so contains the bodies of many who died from their wounds. I found there to be a striking number of officers buried here, among them Captain Bernard Pitts Ayre, the fourth fatality from the Newfoundland Ayre family from 1st July 1916 (I visited the other three yesterday). Unlike his brother and cousins, he served with the 8th Norfolk Regiment, having been a pre-war territorial. Bernard had first come to the UK in 1911 to read natural sciences at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was remembered as both a lacrosse player and a talented full back in the rugby team. He was also noted to have been briefly a member of Footlights. He was 24 years old when he was killed.

Next I turned back up towards Montauban along the side of the long and thin Talus Boise wood. I was now walking on the ground advanced over by the 18th Division, a unit largely raised from the Home Counties. In this area, near where No Man's Land was at its narrowest, was one of the most heavily cratered parts of the sector. On the trench map of 2nd June 1916 almost the whole space between the two sets of trenches is marked with craters. It must have been tough to cross, but the 7th Buffs did so, making it to the edge of the village on 1st July.

This was quite an easy walk to do, covering one target from the First Day of the Somme and, although it was about 11km, I made it back to Bernafay Wood for lunchtime. I'm glad that I did: today was a really hot day, with very little wind that made for very sweaty walking!

After lunch and a siesta in the B&B (well, I wrote the first half of this blog at least) I headed back out on my bike to visit some of the neighbouring sites. Just a few hundred metres down the road is Trones Wood which was captured between 8th and 14th July, following the advance up through Montauban. On the edge of the wood there is a memorial obelisk to 18th Division who attacked here both in 1916 and 1918.
The road up to Trones Wood
Just round the corner I came to another memorial. This wayside calvary is dedicated to Paulus Maltzkorn whose farm had stood on this spot until its destruction in the First World War. Maltzkorn had been born in Germany, but married a French woman and served in the French Army. His farm was occupied and fortified by the German Army who used it as an observation post over the Montauban front. Standing by the cross, it's easy to see why. Slight rises in all directions give this a 360 degree view of the battlefield and into the British positions as far back as Carnoy. (More can be read about Maltzkorn here).

Back up on the Trones Wood road I next came to Guillemont Road Cemetery. I think this is one of the most beautiful cemeteries on the battlefield (maybe alongside Oosttaverne in Belgium) and it looks even more glorious in the sunshine. Buried here is Lieut Raymond Asquith, the son of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. He was killed on this day (15th September) in 1916, while attacking in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. He was a distinguished academic: after studying at Balliol College, Oxford he was elected a fellow of All Souls. It is said that after he was shot in the chest near Ginchy, he lit a cigarette to conceal the gravity of his injury from his men.

Next I rode round to Guillemont, stopping at the memorial to the 16th (Irish) Division. Recent wreaths have been laid here commemorating their involvement on 3rd September 1916 in the capture of the village.

The memorial is in front of the village church and as the door was open, I decided to look in. In 2008 the church was renovated and beautifully painted with a rainbow ceiling. In today's sunshine it was really bright and beautiful. At the back of the church there are a number more memorials to the battalions of the 16th Division, placed here at the time of the 2008 renovation.

At the edge of the village I came to another memorial to the Division, this one remembering the Jersey Contingent who fought in the 7th battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. I don't particularly like this memorial, although I do appreciate the sentiment that the "heart" of the rock is back in Jersey. I just don't understand the seemingly random rock itself.

Another memorial I'm not a particular fan of is the Piper's Memorial in Longueval. I 100% back the concept of this one, yet its execution is just a bit poor and I find the eyes to be really creepy.

On past the memorial I cycled up to Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, which also contains the New Zealand memorial to the missing of the Somme. I was fortunate to be here for the Flers-Courcelette Centenary on 15th September 2016 which was attended by Prince Charles, so it felt fitting to visit on the anniversary today. This is a concentration cemetery, established after the Armistice, to hold the bodies of the fallen from across this area. As a result, the burials date from throughout the Battle of the Somme and the following years. I spent some time here wandering through the rows of identical headstones, reading some of the epitaphs. Just before I left I stopped to talk to a very friendly Canadian couple (Mr and Mrs Darling of Ontario) who were visiting battlefields across Northern France before going to the UK where they had military ancestors buried in Woking.

Riding back towards Montauban, my final stop of the day was at Quarry Cemetery just north of the village. This was first used as an advanced dressing station after the British took Montauban and the uneven burials show the original positions where men were laid to rest. After the Germans reclaimed the position in the Spring Offensive of 1918 they added their own burials, of which 16 remain in the centre of the cemetery. After the war it was expanded to include bodies from some of the smaller nearby cemeteries. These were all arranged in the CWGC's characteristic neat rows, creating a real distinction between the original graves and those added later.

Once I got back to Montauban I headed back to the B&B. Today has been a gloriously sunny day, but with little wind it has meant that it has been very hot walking and cycling so I was feeling really worn out. Nonetheless, I have really enjoyed today, exploring some of the more 'local' sites around where I'm staying.

Kathryn

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