Wednesday 2nd July – Day 2
After a long drive we arrived in The Somme. First visit was to the Newfoundland Park, a memorial park to the Canadian troops who fell during the war. We examined the trenches and David told us the story of the troops who fought and who fell in this area. This was the area where the frontline of the British troops and the frontline of the German troops faced each other across the no mans land. We spent some time wandering around the park to feel the ambience and to take in the beautiful surroundings. We also looked at Caribou monument who calls out to another Caribou facing it across the Atlantic back in Newfoundland, Canada.
We then moved on to the Serre Road Cemetery Number 2 where David told us the story of the Bradford Pals. The first Bradford Pals lost all their officers and 500 out of 600 men who attacked. The second Bradford Pals, lost all their officers except 1 and 500 out of 600 of their men. David showed us a whistle that was used to start the push over the top. This was the last sound that the Pals Battalions would have heard before they fell to their deaths. David also showed us a cigarette tin that saved the life of Fred Wright. The tin was in Fred’s pocket and was hit by a bullet. That tin was in the breast pocket of Fred’s uniform and protected his heart!
Following this emotional story of the Pals, we sat in groups and wrote reflections about how we felt from visiting the World War One battlefields. This was a very difficult exercise as it was difficult to express in words how we were feeling and what we have seen.
We then drove up to Thiepval Memorial. We sat and listened to the stories of Megs Great Great Uncles and Great Great Grandfather who all fought in this area against the Germans. David read diary entries of the records of these 3 soldiers to explain their movements and their stories. David presented Meg with a wonderful present of a booklet containing her family trees, the movements of her family and photos taken at the time from this area. The emotions and feelings that this created were phenomenal. A very very special and unique occasion. Then it was on up to the memorial itself where we had the task of finding our family names on the thousands of names on the memorial.
Onto the mine crater. This was the spot where the British tunnelled under a German stronghold and planted 50,000 tonnes of explosives. It was detonated on the 2nd July 1916. It was led by the 3000 strong Tyneside Irish Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. They had to walk 1000 metres across open land against heavy gunfire from the Germans. This left 50 active men well behind enemy lines deep into the German trench system. These men would all be part of our own family trees.
We then moved onto Delville Wood, the South African memorial for their soldiers who fell. The South Africans were supporting Scottish troops and on 16th July 1916 they captured this wood and held it for 6 days until they ran out of ammunition. A number advanced on the enemy with bayonets fixed and were never seen again. It was in this wood we read our group reflections and listened to our thoughts and emotions about the stories we’ve heard and places we’ve seen.