The Western Front November 11th 2000
The day started bright enough, even if it was a tad cold...
Myself and two friends were down at the Channel Tunnel around 7:00am and it wasn't long before we were eating breakfast in a Cafe in Arras. The plan of attack was to visit Thiepval and surrounding area first, then up to Vimy and the Museum there.
We arrived at Thiepval expecting to find the place busy.... it wasn't.
A lone piper stood at the monument playing his laments and there were a handful of other visitors. We walked down to the Church in the heart of the village expecting there to be a service perhaps? ...There wasn't. But just as we were about to leave we bumped into a chap who informed us a local ceremony was about to take place starting at the Village Hall.
We arrived at the Village hall to find quite a crowd of both British and Friendly locals with their children. The Mayoress arrived and thanked everyone for coming and off we went. Firstly to the church to lay wreaths for Local men, then onto The Thiepval Memorial itself where wreaths were laid for the fallen.
Mayoress at Thiepval Church
The ground behind the car in the background was once the site of a village pond.
Behind the coach can be seen a farm, this is the site of the old Chateu. Thiepval is now more of a hamlet rather than a village because the Chateu was destroyed along with the rest of the village. It was this chateu that employed the locals of the pre 1914 village. The family that lived there died out with no heirs so it was never rebuilt....and so there was no work.
The Ulster Tower built in memory of the 36th (Ulster) Division who attacked this position at great cost.
Looking across the Ancre at The Ulster Tower
See the German trench works marked out with yellow dots.
We left the Ulster tower and walked down the track to a concrete gun emplacement in an area known to the Ulstermen as the Pope's nose. The above picture was taken at the top of the track (middle of no mans land )looking towards Hamel.The Thiepval Wood where the British launched their attack is to the left of this picture. It was so peaceful and quiet on the day of our visit and was very hard to imagine the horror that had unfolded one July morning many years ago.
It was then onto The Newfoundland Memorial Park, stopping off at the Hawthorn Crater first.
The Crater was just that. A big hole in the ground. Well, two holes joined together. The sides are very steep and getting into and out of the crater was hard going. It has to be said, climbing in and out was a bit of a waste of valuable time, as we had limited daylight hours and once at the bottom there is nothing to see except vegetation and other visitors! I think for me, the Newfoundland Memorial Park was the highlight of the day. I could clearly see the "front". I would suggest if you are thinking of walking the Somme area, get yourself a good guide book. I particularly like the Battleground Europe series.
This Picture was taken from behind the Allied front line trence in New Foundland Memorial Park, looking towards the German front line. In the centre of this picture, just behind the clump of trees, is Y Ravine, which leads down to Beaumont Hamel (now fenced off).
The Memorial at Vimy Ridge
From the ridge you can clearly see why this piece of land was so bitterly fought over.
It was a simple case of "he who controls the hills controls the plains." In this case the plains of Douai. You can see for miles and miles from here. There are trench works here that have been reconstructed using cement sand bags. I think it looks a bit sterile and could mislead the casual observer about conditions at the front, but it does show you how close to each other the lines came in some sections of the front. Here, only a shell hole seperates the two forward positions
Steve McGarry 2001