SOMME

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beaumont hamel

beaumont hamel

beaumont hamel

beaumont hamel

beaumont hamel

beaumont hamel

beaumont hamel

delville wood

delville wood

delville wood

grevillers

grevillers

grevillers

grevillers

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

mametz

gommecourt

gommecourt

gommecourt

souastre

souastre

thiepval

thiepval monument

river somme

river somme

The landscape in this area is now rich agricultural land and it is a very pleasant area to visit. It is, of course, impossible to overlook the events of 1916 in this area but it is important as in all areas researched by this project to see the living landscape of today and appreciate it for its beauty. Remember that people have rebuilt their lives and culture here and this deserves to be celebrated. If we can for one moment live only in the present here it is a very beautiful agricultural landscape, quiet and rural. The pictures reveal the typical contours of the Somme countryside, gently rolling and lined with trees and hedges mixed with more open high downlands. For an English visitor, it is not unlike the landscape of central southern England.

There are many cemeteries, almost too numerous to count, and typical of the smaller ones is the circular one containing the remains of men of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders who fell here on the 1st July 1916. The cemetery is built on the position of a British support trench. In the hedges behind, trenches still remain.

At Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park the lines occupied by German and British soldiers are still clearly evident and the trenches still remain as they were on the 1st July 1916. At nearby Hawthorn Ridge is the site of the famous mine crater, now hidden in the trees. This is the enormous explosion so often shown in documentaries about the battle when 40,000 pounds of ammonal exploded, under the German front line to create an enormous crater up to 150 yards across and 80 feet deep. At one side of the Memorial Park is 'Y' Ravine, a natural deep depression in the ground used by the Germans as a shelter for their troops. The ravine was lined with entrances to deep underground shelters. As the sign indicates the area is still littered with unexploded ordnance from which the sheep appear miraculously immune. The deep shelters in the ravine protected the Germans from the heavy British bombardment preceding the attack on the 1st July 1916. As the bombardment ended the Germans were able to surface and occupy their defensive positions. While this is the famous story, and it is generally true, it should be remembered that many of the Germans were buried alive in their underground shelters and many simply reduced to nervous wrecks after undergoing the stress of a week under bombardment. The house at the end of the old British front line trench belongs to the superintendent as the park is constantly supervised by a staff of Canadian students, as with the similar park at Vimy. Roughly in the centre of the Park stands 'Danger Tree' which marks the rough mid point between the lines. This skeletal remnant of the battle stands supported by a concrete base and now seems almost petrified.

At Hamel in the deep valley below Thiepval runs the little River Ancre. Once a major hazard and obstacle for the British troops it is now just a quiet river in a very rural part of France. For all the tourists visiting the battlefields it is very easy to forget the history and just enjoy the quiet landscape, especially on a warm August day like this. On the hill above the river are the scant remains of the German fortress known as the Schwaben Redoubt. This mass of wire and bunkers caused many thousands of casualties. There are several memorials to the many Irish soldiers who died near here.

Delville Wood is now a Memorial Park in memory of the South African soldiers who died fighting here. Tragically an opportunity was missed to take the wood at the start of the battle when it was only lightly defended. Given a breathing space the Germans occupied the wood and put up a fierce defence costing many thousands of lives on both sides. At the time this was called 'Devil's Wood'. While the wood is littered with the remains of trenches and battlefield detritus one tree stands as a kind of testament to the survival of nature. A single hornbeam is the only surviving tree from the 1916 battles in this area and despite being full of shrapnel seems very healthy.

Gommecourt was at the western end of the battlefield, the extreme left of the British line on the 1st July 1916, and a diversionary attack here attempted to draw off German troops from the main attack. This smaller assault was also a disaster costing many hundreds of lives.

The bunker shown here stands just to the side of the Albert-Bapaume road, its door facing back toward the British lines. To the side of it in an old crater is a fishing pond surrounded by trees.

My first visit here in August was marked by violent thunderstorms each evening. On the day I visited the Thiepval Monument the morning had seen fierce gales giving way to a sunny day but the rain returned with the night. The Thiepval Monument to the Missing designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens dominates the surrounding landscape with its massive brick arches and stone tablets which record the names of the missing.

The Canal du Nord was unfinished at the time of the First World War and much of it was incorporated into the German defences. The view shown here is just to the west of Peronne and shows the water highway navigable by large commercial barges relieving the roads of thousands of tons of cargo. The banks are lined with tracks and this summer afternoon had drawn out many fishermen.

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