WW1 Battlefield And Memorial Sites - Part 1
Below is a personal account by Dorothy Norcross of her latest trip to the WW1 battlefields and memorials. She and her husband Bernard are originally from Preston in Lancashire and now live in Plouguernevel, on the outskirts of Rostrenen. They make this pilgrimage each year and are delighted to place wreathes, crosses and poppies on behalf of any Royal British Legion members.
In 2008 they were accompanied by their daughter Claire, her husband Neil Hooson and their three children aged 18 months, five years and their eldest, Toby, who is 14 years. For the next two years Toby will be studying WW1 and Germany, before and after Hitler, for his GCSE, so it was a fabulous excuse for them all to go and give him a head start for his studies.
The story started in 2002, when Bernard and his brother Tony decided to take a trip into the past. The family has repeated the exercise each year since then, originally organised by Tony and always with a theme. One year they visited all the graves of wartime poets; every year it was different. In 2004 their younger brother, Peter, and Neil, decided to go with them; it was meant to be that they all went, because sadly this was Tony’s last trip. In 2005 he died very suddenly from asbestosis.
Tony and Bernard went originally after reading articles and watching the history channel, about WW1. They were both appalled by the unnecessary loss of life and wanted to see it for themselves. They went the first time on a coach trip with King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI), and that was it, as they say, they were bitten by the bug. While members of the family make their visit every year; they have no direct links with WW1 but go to pay their respects, in their words: “to the ones who gave their lives for their country.”
Beaumont Hamel Battlefield
On the 24th July 2008 we set off from Rostrenen, while Claire, Neil and the grandchildren left Preston, and we all met up at Avril Williams Guest House at Auchonvilliers (or “Ocean Villas” as the tommies called it) for a few days in the Somme. Avril’s is a most interesting place to start, because she has trenches in her back garden, leading into a cellar that was used as a dressing station in the war. The cellar is a very eerie place indeed, but fascinating. She also has a museum in the barn across the road, which houses all the artefacts she has found, and acquired over the years.
During our days in the Somme we visited Beaumont Hamel, the Newfoundland Memorial and the battlefield itself. Here you can still see the trenches all along the battlefield. We walked all the way to what is called the danger tree; this was as far as the soldiers could get, after that they were in the firing line; this tree has been preserved for posterity.
The Thiepval Memorial, which is the biggest British war memorial in the world and can be seen for miles around, was our next port of call. It’s the memorial to the missing of the Somme who have no known grave. There are 16 pillars full of names engraved in the stone. Here we put poppies in memory of the lost relatives of Don Dykes (Central Brittany Branch Treasurer), and for the grandfather of Phil, another one of our dear English friends now living in Brittany. Close by we stopped off at the Ulster Tower, but the tower itself was closed.
The Vimy Ridge Memorial stands on the edge of the ridge and overlooks the valley below. The French gave to the Canadians the area on which the memorial stands as a good-will gift; 3,000 men were injured and 1,000 died each day taking the ridge. This is a "must see" place: just standing there in the quiet, remembering and thinking what it must have been like; it would have been horrendous but now is so so quiet and peaceful.
Not far from the memorial are the Vimy Ridge trenches, here Claire had booked a tour of the underground trenches. I babysat, because this was a family trip and we had with us the two little ones; the agreement was that, if they couldn’t go somewhere, I would look after them so that we didn’t all miss out. Afterwards we all met up and I did the above ground guided tour, to see the huge bomb holes so close to the trenches. It’s all so very eerie.
While we were there we had an unpleasant experience. Some rude people were running on top of the trenches despite there being notices all around asking people not to climb up there. Our guide very politely asked them to get down, and was met with a very irate reply; they then walked past us looking very annoyed. Surprise, they were not visitors to the trenches, but were out on a jogging trip!
We also went to the German cemetery, Fricourt. In the German cemeteries there are metal crosses to mark the graves and no flowers except on the memorial at the end of the cemetery. In here there are also the graves of some Jews, and the Red Baron was at one time buried here. There are mass graves holding the bodies of close to 12,000 soldiers of which the names of over 6,000 are unknown. Something strange happened here, our five-year old grandson, kept going back to the same grave time and time again for the whole time we were there and took numerous photos of it.
We visited the Sunken Road and Hawthorn Ridge, and stood on the spot where that very famous photo was taken. We did go to the Welsh Memorial, the Tank Memorial, where the first tank battle took place, and the South African Memorial, which has some wonderful brass wall plaques in the visitor’s centre.