Saturday, May 14, 2011

Battle of the Somme

I'm a little out of order here but there it is - I am on vacation after all.

After Vimy Ridge we headed down to Beaumont-Hamel to see the site of the Battle of the Somme.
This was a markedly different battle than Vimy and Passchendaele; the Somme was originally lost, and lost badly.

And call me crazy, but you can feel it there, as palpably as you can feel it and see it too, in the roughness of the grass.

This is a battlefield that draws you in, you can walk through the trenches, and there is a path around the perimeter that takes you in turn, to the Newfoundland Monument,

Here the messengers ran from Officer to men and back again, reporting positions and relaying orders. The trenches zigzag to keep the enemy from determining the actual location and direction and there are trenches themselves  zig-zagged all across the battlefield.

A messenger in WW1 had a life-span of 3-5 days.

It was a volunteer position, but the soldiers were unaware of the of the statistics - they volunteered because Messengers were permitted to sleep in the tunnels, away from the mud and the artillery.
But Messengers had to wear white arm bands so they were easily identified and given right of passage  - but it was those white arm bands that also made them easily identifiable to enemy scouts and they were a primary target.
Knowing the odds, Officers often dispatched four Messengers with the same message, in the hopes that one would get through.
I saw where they slept in the tunnels and believe me it was no place of comfort. All I could think of was if this was better, how bad was worse?

Messenger Trench


1st Commonwealth Cemetery


Scot's Monument

2nd Commonwealth Cemetery
You see all this and more, all the while walking amidst the pockmarked battlefield, scarred by artillery and mortar shells.

Sheep are used to keep the grass short; the undulations of the land remove all possibility of using any kind of lawn mower but it is more important to leave the landscape intact with it's scars than to ease the maintenance of it. The sheep are also used at Vimy; the difference is that there they add a sense of peace of tranquility, but in the Somme it is different. Here they are noisier, head-butting for space, as if they too feel the malaise in the air.

As we walked the trails I couldn't help but also notice the crows. They too were loud and angry, calling fiercely to each other across the tree tops and created the worst din I have ever heard from birds. I raised my head and yelled at them - did they not know where they were? What it meant? 
There was silence but only for a short time and then they started again...

The Somme does not sleep, not yet...


Createology said...

I am truly enjoying your trip and the places you are visiting. This is a much different France than I would ever get to experience. Safe Travels my dear...

Suztats said...

Walking in the footsteps of our history and feeling the unrest and sorrow seep into one's bones.....this is what I feel reading your post. Thank you for sharing your experiences and emotions during this trip.

MosaicMagpie said...

Another great post. What a life those soliders had.

Draffin Bears said...

Hi Jillayne,

I am enjoying reading your travel experiences and seeing photographs.
Thanks for sharing the history and hope that you have a safe and wonderful trip.


Michelle May (Shell) said...

This is fascinating. I can't even imagine sleeping in a tunnel. It does sound like an urested place full of unhappy spirits. Animals seem to know these things. I'm so glad blogger is working again so I can leave messages!!
Ok, now on to the other posts to catch up.
xx, shell

Bead and Needle said...

I am so loving your travels...thanks for taking us along with you, Jillayne! Travel safe - Tanya

Marj Talbot said...

WE just can't imagine what these people endured. The trenches look like little protection for anyone.
Darned crows show up everywhere eh?
Safe travels and thanks again for sharing.

Dorthe said...

Jillayne, it have been just terribly- and so scaring I can imagine, for all those men.
You show and tell, the history beautiful, and with much insight, dear.