Monday, 20 August 2012

Battle of Somme tour

The first day of the Battle of Somme was the bloodiest day in British military history, with more than 19,000 killed and an additional 37,000 missing or wounded.  The battle was intended to help relieve pressure upon the beleagured French defenders fighting desperately in the Battle of Verdun, about 100 miles away.  The British commanders expected that the massive artillery bombardment in the days before the battle would have eliminated all German positions.  Instead, the barrage only served to warn the Germans where the attack was coming, and to throw the barbed wire around in No Man's Land.  When the British went over the top to assault the German trenches, the German defenders emerged from their dugouts and mowed the British infantry with machine gun fire.  The slaughter was so horrific at some locations that the German gunners quit firing in order to let the British and Commonwealth wounded stagger back to their own lines.

We drove the Circuit of Remembrance and stop at many sites along the way telling the story of the Battle of the Somme and those countries and the men who fought in it.

Our first stop was the French military cemetery at Rancourt
It has over 8,000 French graves

We found a gravestone with Arabic writing; many of the French colonial troops were Muslims.

Jewish marker

Next was the South African Memorial

Behind this monument stood a smaller museum dedicated to the history of South African participation in conflicts from WWI to Korea.

Here we learn about a soldier's pet Baboon "Jackie" that went to war and even earned the rank of Corporal int he South African Army.  He spent 3 years at war and proved to be a great sentry due to his extraordinarily good hearing and eyesight.  At one point his owner was wounded in battle and Jackie took care of him until medical help arrived.  Jackie was also wounded and lost a leg during a battle and his owner made sure he was taken care for by the medics.  Both Jackie and owner returned home after the war.

Next we went to the Newfoundland Memorial.  Newfoundland was a Dominion of the United Kingdom in the Great War and did not join Canada until after World War Two. The Canadian visitor center is the second we have visited in Europe (the first was at Juno Beach in Normandy).  We have to say that our Canadian friends do an excellent job with their war memorials.

Here we were able to walk the trenches for the Allied forces, which were filled with troops from Newfoundland and the Scottish Highlands.  During the war,  they would have been at least 2 feet deeper.  The German trenches, which were better designed and stronger than the Commonwealth trenches, were less than 100 meters away.

Daddy and the kids reading the informational packet as we walk along the trench lines, trying to figure out where the different troop lines would have been located.

A sculpture of a caribou, a symbol of Newfoundland.  We were also told that the stones are from Newfoundland, and that all the trees that have been replanted are varieties that could be found in Newfoundland.

More trench lines

WWI metal stakes still imbedded in the ground along the trench lines.  These stakes would have help to hold up the earth

WWI barbed wire stakes are still dotted in No Man's Land amongst the memorial

Petrified tree.  What the trees would have looked like after the battle

Flag of Newfoundland amongst the graves.  Of the 780 Newfoundlanders who went forth in the first attack, only 110 survived and only 68 were able to answer roll call the following day, with all officers dead.

We saw these signs at almost every site we visited.  People are still finding WWI ammunition in fields and forest and there is several deaths per year due to WWI ammunition.  It is what is known as "The Iron Harvest"  We even heard that gas bombs have been accidentally detonated and have killed people.

Another stop was one of the largest bomb craters ---60,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate explosives were set off beneath the Germans lines resulting in a massive crater...can you just imagine the total devastation to the men in the trench above this explosive.  !

Diagram of the crater.  This was not the largest mine explosion of the Great War!!!!  In  Belgium, 1917, the British detonated one that was 15X larger

While we walked around the crater with clear signs telling us to NOT leave the wooden walk way we found this grave, just beside the walkway.

In 1998 on Halloween a visitor walking this same path noticed bones sticking out of the ground and contacted the authorities and they discover the remains of this WWI soldier!

This picture doesn't do this site justice, it is massive.  Can you see that little red dot in the is a poppy wreath the same size as the one hanging on the grave marker in the picture above. 

Our next stop was for the Welsh Memorial.  Princess loves dragons so we had to stop.

We weren't able to stop at all the memorials along this route as we ran out of time, but the ones we did stop at were full of sobering images and stories of the battle and the men of the Somme!


  1. Wow, just overwhelming! It is nice to hear that the Germans stopped firing at times. It's sad that the British had no way to stop the attack once it was started and soldiers were being mowed down. A cell phone or two would have helped greatly. Reading your posts about WWI really makes me appreciate how barbaric of a war it was. There was just enough technology to mow people down, but not enough technology to prevent people from being mowed down.

  2. What a great post on the history. Really helps make it seem so much more real. Just started following from the No Ordinary Blog Hop.

    1. Thanks for following I am following back:)

  3. Cool post! I like traveling and history so this post was interesting to read. Just started following from the No Ordinary Blog Hop :)


  4. Thank you again for some great pictures an explanations. It's such a great history lesson. I just love these adventures and with these I have a personal connection.
    Blesssings to you for another awesome learning experience.