My swan

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Cuddles, Jun 28, 2010.

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  1. Last Sunday, I packed up my car and set off to work. In France. not unusual for me, apart from the fact that I was taking the car to France rather than to the airy-port.

    I arrrived Frog side around 1600 and headed up to ALBERT which I had selected for an overnight stop, en route to Chantilly - where I did not need to be until 1600-1700 the next day (Monday).

    I arrived at ALBERT and decided to take a swift drive up to LE SARS while I pondered where to stop the night...which is when I saw the new Ibis Albert. I quickly rolled in, checked out availability of rooms and bar/resto timings before heading off out to roam the battlefields.

    I managed to cram in a visit to Pozieres, Le Sars, Redan Ridge and back via Auchonvillers before the light began to fade. Next morning I was up bright and early and made my way to Dernancourt to visit "the Grandstand". I hadn't been up there before but if I was a General like old Rawly, then I too would have plumped for that location to watch from on the 1st July.

    I then spent an hour chewing the fat with a very nice chap called Les, who is a Friend of Lochnagar and his wife Sheila. The work they do there, with their chums, is quite brilliant and if you are planning on dying soon, then a bequest to the FOL would be appreciated I am sure! His son is an LE in the PWRR btw. Very enjoyable exchanges of factoids which resulted in my haring up to Fricourt to see the sight of an archaeological dig where a flame thrower has been uncovered.

    This British (?) device is a 100 foot long tube with a traversable spout. Amazing size of pipe. couldn't see much but got a good idea. Apparently these were emplaced in advance of attacks and flammable liquid pumped out by manual bellows!

    While I was up that way I took a stroll around Mametz Wod and up to Point 110. In this CWGC cemetery one finds a group of Siegfried Sassoon's friends. His aggressive attitude to the Germans was apparently due to the loss of his good friend David Thomas. Thomas' grave lies next to two other RWF officers, David Pritchard and Mervyn Richardson. Their deaths, on the 18th and 19th of March 1916, apparently followed shortly after an unwise comment by the adjutant of the battalion about how fortunate they had been in not suffering any officer casualties in recent times.

    On my way across from La Boiselle to Fricourt I also stopped to have a close look at the cairn/cross memorial to Donald Bell VC. honestly you can hardly move for Green Howards around that neck of the woods! Bell was a professional soccer player and a charming couple from Nottingham also paying their respects remarked on how his character compared to that of John Terry and co. Not favourabl;y was the consensus of our impromptu gathering...

    Time having swung against me I popped off to chantilly. However my brief taste of the Somme - and areas I don't know that well at that - was to be reinforced. After jigs and reels I found myself heading north from Paris early on Thursday afternoon. Which meant a whole evening and morning on the Somme beckoned.

    I decided to steer clear of my habitual stamping grounds entirely (Flers/Contalmaison, Delville etc.). Instead I motored around to Beaumont Hamel and took a quick walk up to Hawthorn Crater - which is the famous mine which almost every director of a WW1 documentary cannot resist showing! It is not subject to the TLC of Lochnagar but it is still quite impressive.

    Then heading towards Redan Ridge I was clearly able to detect the line of old dugouts in the bank beneath the Argylls memorial. A quick Discovery ride away and I was up to Munich Trench. In the fields to the west of the small cemetary is the spot at which "Saki" the satirist and author was killed - he joined the sappers and served in the ranks. e like so many on the Somme has no known grave and is commemmorated on the Thiepval memorial to the missing.

    His name is one of several distinguished ones on that memorial, alongside the ordinary young officers and Tommies. The occasional sight of one of those names is a reminder of how absolutely the Somme battles affected the UK population (the Empire indeed) from the Asquith family in 10 Downing Street down to some terrace home of a northern Pals battalion member. Seven VCs are named there as is Pte Reg Giles - aged only 14.

    Had dinner and some wine, then some more wine and a chat with some nice ulster chappies. They were there mostly for the craic of a boy's trip out but there leader was as obsessive as me. So we had some more wine. Then more wine. We parted and it was not until I was on the road the next day I discovered he had picked up my Martin Middlebrook, with 20 years of annotations in it (chiz) and I had his. I did mention the wine?!

    So the next morning what to do? I had four hours to kill and decided to visit the areas I know best but trying to avoid the stands I had researched for various BS and tours. Which was how I eventually found myself way out to the east of Ginchy and met two tank hunters from Bedford.

    These guys had so much collateral/evidence in the boot of their car, they hardly had enough room for their beer supply. They obviously had failed to pack the bottle-opener, so it was indeed well met because leaving home without a "church key" is anathema to me. They were looking for the ditching site of a tank which had advance past Lousy Wood. They had maps and photos but lacked a Gunner's eye for ground. So briefly I entered into the specialised battlefield tourist discipline of, I'm more a people person! Quite satisfying to pinpoint the location though.

    Before arriving at Lousy Wood I had stopped off at the Guards Cemetery and there is always something "righteous" about well-dressed lines of CWGC headstones with Guards badges - the discipline of their array must be pleasing to guardsmen and perhaps there is a restful, peaceful thing for them in that? Yes, driving around on your own in the blazing sunshine does make you think the strangest thoughts...

    I then decided it was probably time to get on the motorway but by taking a little back double towards Peronne, I took in the French memorial chapel and the combles CWGC Communal Extension cemetery. Phew...crammed so much in but I have been so busy since christmas that I have not been on my usual appointed rounds of the Somme battlefields.

    My next return visit, I intend to get into the north/north western areas in horrendous detail. As I remarked earlier I have been visiting for tenty-odd years and am starting to get an understanding of the area! Another forty years or so and I might just about feel comfortable with the material. Strangely enough, either my eye is now "in" or the geography has settled somemore and the physical archaeology is slightly more apparent...especially once you know the places to stand at times of day and angles to observe from.

    Oh and did i mention I got paid for the travelling days by my client? Bloody work, work, work eh? :D
  2. Great description - thank you.
  3. A good post, I went there several years ago. I stayed at a hotel in Bapaume, there was quite a big German cemetery there as well. If my memory serves me right, on the Bapaume/Albert road, in Poziers possibly, there is a little French cafe with a section of trench in its garden along with a small museum with lots of bits & pieces dug up over the years!
    I always find it humbling and moving looking at the Cemeteries with the rows of headstones! Interesting to note the British cemeteries are much better kept than the Germans!
  4. The cafe is Tommy's...dropped in for a refresher on Thursday evening. The terrace has been massively improved and the landlord is still learning the bagpipes!

    The German cemetery you describe can only be Fricourt, 17000 casualties buried - 90% of German killed on the Somme have no known burial place...
  5. Great post Cuddles. Reminds me of Summer 98 when myself and the ex went to Tynecot Cemetery then the Menin Gate. Still have a load of the photos, it was the first time I had been to a proper war cemetary, previously had only been to local war graves when I was a cadet.
  6. ugly

    ugly LE Moderator

    Great post even if I was looking for a large poultry recipe!
  7. Any pictures?
  8. Years ago ,1986 I think, myself and Mrs Chef went canoeing round the Congac area and returned via Albert staying in an excellent hotel overlooking a roundabout on which was the only A/Tnk gun I have ever seen traversed off dead centre. 75mm German I seem to remember.
    That aside the town closed at 21.00hrs apart from one club which we found by noise.
    Of the CWGC cemetaries I always find the little ones the most moving, they seem to show the human cost more than the huge ones, take a look at the USA one overlooking Omaha beach, every grave is a life lost, but the huge scale makes the individual look lost.
    We also stopped at Vimy Ridge where we met a veteran who had been there at the time, he was a signaller and was in no-man's land when looking out of the shell hole he was in saw through the early morning mist a line of field grey moving up, before he and his oppo could leg it back, his sidr started up, so they hugged the ground until it all stopped.
    What times, and what Men.(And that hasn't changed.)
  9. Yes. Sadly due to finger trouble the Monday ones got wiped - along with 300 images for work! However I have some others and I'll probably get round to banging them - or at least any good ones - on here!

    It is full on poppy season at present and I spend hours - it seemed - trying to get a defining photo of poppies. Fear the worst; the best was taken on Monday along with a dawn shot of the Golden Virgin...damn you technology!
  10. Your mention of the mine reminds me of a trip with my Troop in the late 90s. Quoth Cpl Gerbil, "is it called the Hooge Crater because it's so big, Sir?"
  11. ugly

    ugly LE Moderator

    Quality and probably genuine! :D
  12. self indulgence. Normally I don't get to mooch around like that - it's in, stand 1, stand 2, sort out someone's hotel issues, change the minibus tyre whilst dressed for a wreath laying, stand umpteen, quiet drink planned but no, some git pinning me to the bar to ask why Preparation H wasn't used instead of RDX or whatever in mines! Then losing somebody at duty free at Tunnel/Ferry terminal...

    Strangely just had a call from a lady who wants me to take a hen party over! Honest injun...

    All those who want to volunteer to help with that, please go to Plymouth. It isn't where we'll be running the tour from - it's where the back of the queue is...