After a good night’s sleep, we set off back into France to the South African memorial and museum at Delville Woods. The place was beautiful and tranquil and it was once again hard to imagine all the horrors of the First Worle War taking place where there are now quiet woodlands and avenues. One solitary tree remains from the original wood and it stands behind the museum that tracks the contribution of South African Forces in the war.
Next was the amazing sight of Lochnagar Crater which is 91 metres in diameter and 21 meters deep. It was created when explosives placed by miners underneath the German trenches were detonated on 1st July 1915, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
After the crater, we traveled to the stunning memorial at Thiepval that stands as testament to the losses on the Somme. Designed by Edwin Lutyens, who designed many of the most famous buildings in London including the Cenotaph, the Thiepval memorial contains an every growing list of names of people known to have died in the Battle of the Somme but whose bodies have not been found. There are over 72,000 names and many of us were able to find the names of people who shared our names or those of people we know.
Next we set off to Beaumont Hamel, where the Canadians, particularly New Foundlanders, battled the German forces. Dominated by the statue of a huge caribou, we could see the trench networks walking distance from each other. At the visitors centre it gave a picture of what a New Foundlanders life would have been like before the war – so alien to what their lives were like on the battlefields.
The last visit of the day was to Railway Hollow, the site of the memorial to the Accrington and Barnsley Pals who signed up together and died together on the Somme. We kneeled in the trenches where the soldiers would have waited for the command to attack and it was a very haunting experience. We went down to the cemetery where Miss Luness played us a song about the dead of the First Wold War. After this we wrote a message on the back of a cross with a poppy on it to one of the soldiers buried in the cemetery. It was a chance to think about what the soldiers might have been thinking about or even what they would have made of today’s world.