I have taken many photos of the Cemeteries and memorials of the Great War, notably the memorials of Tyne Cot, Ploegsteert Wood, Faubourg de Amiens, Thiepval and the Imperial Archway of the Menin Gate. However this one is my favourite of all time, it is a combination of Symmetry, Nature and above all light coming through the darkness to create a spectacle of sheer grief, pain and the end of an age. Of which we as a country will never see the likes of again.
After a weekend abroad on the Somme and Artois, I was lucky enough to visit new cemeteries as well as old. Most notably the beautiful Chateau Cemetery at Contalmaison and the new and old Cemeteries at Point 110. Tackling sunshine and showers, and Hail Storms i walked in total 32 miles along the Somme Battleground. I exceeded my own expectations. On Sunday and Monday, I alongside my Friend Shaun took Dawn walks to sacred areas of the 1st July 1916 Battlefield, on Sunday we walked across Mash Valley to the Nab, a short distance from Thiepval. On Monday we walked across Sausage Valley and observed the mighty Lochnagar mine crater as the sun rose, before walking across the old front lines of the Valley to Gordon Dump Cemetery, on the road between La Boisselle and Contalmaison.
But it was Tuesday morning in the early morning mist of the Somme alongside Lucy that i took, for me personally the photo of all photos. It to me signalled that it will be a long while before I return again back to this place, where my passion and devotion began in Primary School almost 23 years ago.
I had packed my bag ready to go for the trip home back to Yorkshire. It was 6.30am. Outside the sky was foggy and dull, when i recieved a knock on my door. It was Lucy asking if i fancied a short walk up to Pozieres Cemetery. I didnt even hesitate in my answer, it was a last chance to pay my respects to Them.
The walk to and from Pozieres from La Boisselle to Pozieres took 25 minutes each way, Walking along one of the Via Delorosa’s of British Military history, the Infamous Albert to Bapaume Road. We trudged through the mist and Fog, our boots and Socks wet and cold from the Frost from the overgrown Grass. The visibility was not great, around 50 metres. It was probably a stupid and mad thing to do, especially as the morning traffic was getting busier. But we persevered and slowly out of the mist emerged one of the defining memorials of the Somme. It is one of the must see Cemeteries that must be visited if you ever get the chance to go. As we opened the gates we stepped into an arena of sheer natural beauty and atmosphere, the mist acting as a protective blanket to the men that laid in everlasting peace. It was a moment of pure spiritual elysium. All the elements of nature acting in the only possible outcome. It was simply breathtaking.
Pozieres is a place of significance, for the People of Australia it has a particular infamy, in July 1916 at Fromelles and in front of Pozieres, the Anzacs were bloodied into the Cauldron of the Western Front. In taking Pozieres it cost the Australians 23,000 killed, wounded and missing, not only in taking the village, but also resisting heavy artillery bombardments and counterattacks by the Germans who were determined to keep the Village in their hands. Pozieres was the highest point on the Somme front and gave a unrestricted view to the British positions. As a concequence, In the words of the biographer Charles Bean “Pozieres Ridge is more densely sown with Australian Sacrifice than any other place on Earth.”
As Part of Sir Hubert Gough’s Reserve Fifth Army, the Australians through August and early September crept slowly northwards up to the German Bastion of Mouquet Farm, which was on the approach to Thiepval Ridge, which was still in German hands. It became a living nightmare for the Australians. In 6 weeks of heavy fighting the Australians lost as many men as they had done at Gallipoli from April 1915 to January 1916. They were eventually relieved by the Canadians, who were preparing for the next major attack toward Courcelette, which took place on 14th September 1916.
Pozieres has also a memorial dedicated to the Soldiers of the British Fourth and Fifth Armies who were killed in the Battles of early 1918, the names of over 14,000 men who were killed during the German Spring offensives of 1918, and have no known Grave. One notable mention is that of Lieutenant Colonel Elstob of the Manchester Regiment, his 16th battalion was holding a redoubt near the City of St Quentin. Knowing that his Battalion was going to face the brunt of the first German Attacks. His famous quote has come into Legend. “Here we Fight, here we die.”
On 21st March 1918, Elstob and his Battalion fought valiantly the crack German Stormtroopers who attacked through the spring mist. Knowing the position was hopeless, he alongside his men fought with great courage and tenacity. His Manchester battalion fought to the very end, Elstob was eventually killed, but the hill that he and his battalion had fought on from then on became Manchester Hill. Another Legend had become enshrined in History. For his courage Elstob recieved postumously the Victoria Cross on top of the Distinguished Service Order, he is one of my heroes of the Great War.
As I left Pozieres, I left in great comfort, but sad in knowing that it will be a long while before I return again to the Somme Battlefield of 1916. How I love and adore that area of France, to me it is a part of home that can never be taken away, the spirits of so many thousands still linger in the air. My focus of attention now turns towards another infamous Battlefield of 1916, Verdun.
I have to discover new stories, new areas of knowledge are waiting to be found, and im looking forward to preparing for it, The Somme will never leave my thoughts or my mind, but it is time to discover the Meuse, Mort Homme and the Fortresses of Douaumont, Vaux and Souville. It is time to embrace the epic Battle of Gaul versus Teuton, in Lloyd Georges Words “Unparallelled Human Savagery.”
And The Earth abideth Forever