Farewell my son

Dedicated with love and affection to my dear Uncle Kevin, who we lost on Thursday November 14th 2019, aged 51. Loved by all who knew him and leaves a gap that that will never be filled, reunited with Grandad and Great Uncle Joe, Requiscat En Pace.

I have been thinking about what to write this past week with great overwhelming sadness and a sense of overwhelming loss, I have lost an Uncle, my Father has lost a brother, my Auntie has lost her husband, my Grandmother has lost her son. How could this happen? Why did this sudden blow come to us five weeks before Christmas, to a man who gave so much love, laughter and overwhelming kindness to so many. He leaves so much behind when he still had so very much to give. In many ways one of the great cornerstones of my family has gone beyond the horizon of our sight. He will be sorely missed. His legacy will remain in our thoughts and prayers for many years to come.

In June 1942 on the steppes of Russia, Lieutenant Vladimir Antokolosky of the Red Army was killed defending his homeland against the threat of Nazi occupation. His father Pavel, absolutely devastated and distraught wrote a poem dedicated to him the following year later. His powerful poem resonated around the country that had lost over twenty million men, women and children. It is a passage that never fails to move me. It is a piece of literature that many people have never read before. It is a poem of Soviet propaganda designed to aid the war against their their bitterest ideological rival Nazi Germany. But is also a poem of heartbreak, torment and unprecedented loss, the memories shared, and the future memories cruelly taken away. But also it is a poem of reluctant acceptance that his Son died for a noble cause and that the fight for victory must continue. It is quite a long poem so i will give you a few quotations.

“Do not call me, father, do not seek me, Do not call me, do not wish me back.

Will there be a rendezvous? I know not. I only know we still must fight. We are sandgrains in infinity, never to meet, never more see light. Farewell my Son, farewell my conscience. My youth and my solace my one and my only.

And let this farewell be the end of the story, of solitude vast and which none is more lonely. In which you remain, barred forever and ever, From Light and from Air, with your death pangs untold. Untold and un soothed, not to be resurrected. Forever and ever, an 18 year old.

Farewell then, no trains come from those regions scheduled or unscheduled, no aeroplanes fly there. farewell then my son, for no miracles happen, as in this world dreams do not come true.

Farewell…………..

The earth where so many lie buried. This song to my son. is come to its close”

The German invasion of Russia in late June 1941 was the beginning of the greatest land battle of the Second World War, and arguably the defining military campaign of the twentieth century. Hitler and the Wehrmacht had achieved astonishing success in its objective of conquering vast swathes of the European continent, the Low Countries, Poland, Norway, the Balkans and France was now subjugated under the Nazi jackboot. Because Britain had maintained and successfully defended its airspace in the summer of 1940, it prevented a German assault over the English Channel. Britain although not beaten was not in a position to attempt an invasion of the continent and switched its focus to fighting on the ground in the western desert and to conduct bombing raids over German airspace. Hitler, his generals and his army who were greedy for more victories turned towards the Soviet Union.

In 1939 the Nazi-Soviet pact had guaranteed Poland’s dual subjugation under the two ideological countries. When the 2 armies met up in occupied Poland, the German forward units had noted that their Soviet allies were very poorly equipped and led. This led to Hitler, who had written in his book “Mein Kampf” believing in creating new “Land space” for the German people by invading the Soviet Union and increasing Germany’s wealth in food and raw materials, something that Germany critically lacked. The Soviet Union and its Red Army was in Hitler’s view rotten and that it “Would only need a kick in the door and the whole structure would come crashing down”. The Slavic race would be sent to work in German factories as slave workers, the Jewish race would be exterminated in the concentration camps. The Jewish Bolshevik disease completely eradicated from existence.

In the winter of 1941-42 the German panzers were stopped at the gates of Moscow, the Russian winter and fresh divisions from Siberia halted the Germans progress although great swathes of Soviet territory had been seized. The winter had hampered the Germans as it had done to Napoleon’s Grand Armee in 1812. In late July 1942, Hitler made the decision to seize the oilfields of the Caucasus. Hitler’s 6th army under General Von Paulus, victorious in France in 1940 was sent on its own to attack the city of Stalingrad, with a precarious supply line, and no reinforcement if anything went wrong. Stalingrad bore the name of Hitler’s ideological rival and it became an obsession for him. It had to be taken.

Stalin was also aware of the city’s significance, and contrary to his rival Hitler allowed his Generals to take control the situation that was developing in Stalingrad. The fighting was of a savagery almost reminiscent of the medieval age, houses, rooms and cellars were fought to the death. Hundreds of Soviet soldiers were sacrificed in suicidal attacks designed to consume German ammunition stocks. The Red Army fought under the slogan of an order of their commander in chief Stalin, “not one step back”. General Zhukov during the autumn of 1942 created Operation Uranus, which was a counterattack designed to cut off the 6th Army from its supply line and encircle it. The 6th Army was fighting desperately in a attempt to take the city before the Russian winter would wreak havoc again. General Chuikov, who was commanding the Red Army soldiers in the city was just about hanging on to the west bank of the Volga, with a trickle of reinforcements coming over the river by boat into the city which were constantly harassed by German aircraft. Whilst vast reserves of men, tanks and heavy artillery were saved north and south of the city for the counter attack.

Paulus saw the oncoming threat of encirclement and asked to evacuate the city, Hitler refused believing that one more attack would see Stalingrad would fall into his hands. Hitler was warned by his Generals and chiefs of staff of the precarious position of the 6th Army. These concerns were ignored. In late November the Soviet counteroffensive began and the 6th army was surrounded in the snow covered ruins of the city. Hitler believed that the 6th Army could be supplied by the Luftwaffe, and had been reassured by its Commander Hermann Goering that they could do it with the aircraft they had, whilst General Manstein would try to reach the army trapped in Stalingrad by a counter attack. The relief was a complete disaster, the air supply brought a tenth of the supplies that the 6th army needed to sustain its operations. Manstein’s counter offensive was successfully repelled.

Knowing that Hitler and his Generals couldn’t save the soldiers trapped in Stalingrad, the Soviets started to squeeze the pocket that had been created. The German soldiers fought bitterly and desperately in an attempt to survive, horses and dogs were eaten in a attempt to stay alive. The Russians were determined to recover the city of their leader, whatever the human cost. In February 1943. General Paulus and over 90,000 freezing and starving German Soldiers surrendered to the Soviet forces. Paulus who had been made a field marshal, was the first German field marshal to ever have been taken alive. Hitler had expected him to commit suicide and retain his honour.

The defeat of Stalingrad and to an extent the defeat of the Afrika Korps at El Alamein in 1942-43 cannot be underestimated. The German defeat at Stalingrad was a complete catastrophe for Hitler and his ambitions in Soviet Russia, the Red Army had slowly, and at great cost had finally learned how to break the Wehrmacht, it was an absolutely astonishing victory and signalled the eventual and total defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945, when the red flag was flown high above the Reichstag in Berlin. King George VI presented Stalin with the Sword of Stalingrad in recognition of his triumph, and further enhanced Stalin’s reputation as the leader of the Soviet Union. His ideological rival had been comprehensively defeated. A shadow would slowly emerge and develop over Eastern Europe that would last for nearly 50 years.

Hitler’s decision making militarily would lead to more catastrophes at Tunisia and at the Falaise pocket in Normandy, where yet thousands of more prisoners were taken by the western Allies. Of the 91.000 German Prisoners of Stalingrad, only 5,000 men came home from the gulags in Siberia over a decade later. Many soldiers died of malnutrition, lack of medical treatment and brutal treatment by their Soviet masters. The Geneva convention on prisoners of war was irrelevant in a total ideological war.

After Stalingrad was over Hitler said “What is life? Life is the nation, the individual must die anyway, but beyond the life of the individual is the Nation”.

Hitler was beaten and the slow disintegration of his Third Reich was achieved by the Red Army at Stalingrad but the cost of victory for Russia was so huge and far beyond our imagination. We remember our Soldiers who fought on Normandy, Arnhem and in the desert and Burma, but we must recognize the huge contribution that the men of Soviet Russia made in the pursuit of freedom, regardless of the ideological differences.

And the Earth Abideth forever

Rest In Peace Uncle Kevin

Martin Joseph

Eternal Remembrance Part II

The Glorious Dead, etched forever on the Menin Gate Ieper, 10th November 2018

Watching the rain fall outside, it is not difficult to think of the great and wonderful things that this year has brought. From the misty surrounding of Pozieres Cemetery in March, to watching the sun set over the Ossuary at Douaumont, the sun shining brightly over Tyne Cot, to the hidden, blood soaked agony of the Mort Homme. This season of remembrance is very different from last year, completely different. It is not how I will remember the past, it is a overwhelming feeling of how we are going to commemorate the Great War in the future. Will Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday still have that same meaning in 15, 20, even in 100 years time? What I know for certain is that I will not be able to bear witness in my mortal frame, but it is a important fundamental question. Will the people of this country still bear witness to the agony and slaughter that we as a nation endured?

This time last year I was preparing for my maiden tour as a guide for the Centenary of the Armistice, this year I’m off to university for my second set of lectures. When I’m on the train back to Wolverhampton, I will reflect on a time not too long ago that saw the chapter close on a very unique period of our country’s history. To be there on that particular weekend, to witness the end of 100 years of commemoration, 100 years of honouring the fallen. 100 years since the beginning of the end of Britain’s imperial power. I can be able to bear witness to something that meant so much, something that only few people can truly understand.

The Menin Gate, Armistice Centenary Day 2018

Last Armistice Day, alongside my friend Ellen, who had also been part of the Armistice Tour, came with me to the Ramparts Cemetery at Ieper. Where just before 11am the relatives of the late Battlefield Writer, Rose Coombs came to see the end of the centenary celebrations. It was where her ashes were scattered after her death. We were blessed with a solitary piper who played a lament over the water. It was a cloudy day, with a chilly wind over the waters of Iepers fortress moats. As Ieper fell silent and quiet at 11am as we reflected on all those heroes who had gone before us. It was a spine tingling moment, one of many that weekend. Then as soon as the piper finished his lament, the bells of St Martin’s Cathedral rang out the sound of victory over the immortal salient, where tens of thousands of British, French, Commonwealth and German troops fought to the death, and thereby creating a legend that hopefully will last for centuries and millennia to come.

Then I spoke in prayer, Laurence Binyon’s epitaph to the fallen, it was probably the first time that I had ever invoked those words that have been spoken reverently at the Menin Gate every night at 8pm after the Last Post. It is more than just a poem, it is a covenant, it is a declaration of devotion to that generation that now is in the presence of the almighty. A promise to uphold and remember their sacrifice, and most importantly to keep the peace that they won. To remember those who have given their lives in recent times for the same cause that they died for. I wondered about the future and wondered what it would bring. Even today I haven’t found the answer.

This Remembrance Sunday, and Armistice Day 2019 remember not only the British and Commonwealth soldiers, but the French, German, American, Senegalese, Algerian, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Serbian, Italian and Turkish soldiers who in their turn gave their lives in the Great War, they were a extraordinary generation in a very extraordinary time. As the American General John Pershing once quoted “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.” To me that statement is not wrong. It has as much importance now as it did then. Why cannot we have such inspiration as we did then? What did we do wrong? We certainly live in very different and disheartening times. But we have to keep moving forward and to try and see the light in the overwhelming darkness that surrounds us everyday.

How do we Remember our Glorious Dead? Have we in the words of St Paul to Timothy in the New Testament “Kept the Faith?” We have all different ways of commemorating our Glorious Dead, from the Cenotaph in London, to the Imperial monuments in Belgium, France and all corners of the globe. Even to a family burial plot in a local churchyard. Their Soldier etched on the stone because he has no grave, no marker of his final place of rest on a field many miles from home. A hope and belief that they in heaven will meet in the presence of God. Think of that aspect of remembrance too.

Pieces of music, such as Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth stick as spine tingling moments in our national psyche. Elgar’s Nimrod to me is the most poignant piece of all. Standing under the Menin Gate on the last full day of the centenary celebrations. Listening to that piece of music sent a shiver down my spine, a tear rolling down my face. It was the end of a chapter, a chapter that was now coming to its conclusion. A year has now past and I still have as many questions now as I did then. I hope that we keep them in our hearts, not just for one Sunday a year, but for the whole 365.

That is their legacy. It is our inheritance to Remember and reflect.

Their Name Liveth For Evermore

Martin Joseph

Eternal Remembrance Part I

Poppies at Montsec, June 2019

Another Remembrance season is upon us once again, a century on from the very first Remembrance Sunday back in 1919. This year I will be remembering the fallen at home, I will observe the two minute silence in front of the war memorial in my parish church along with my family. The Church has three memorials. Firstly the Stations of the Cross were erected in memory of the Barnsley Pals who were killed on 1st July 1916, painted by a local artist called William Pippett. The Stations trace Christ’s final journey from Jerusalem to the place of his crucifixion, Calvary.

The Second Memorial is dedicated to those members of the parish who were killed in the Second World War, it is dedicated to the English Martyrs, on one side, Cardinal John Fisher, the other Sir Thomas More, who were both executed for their dedication and devotion to their faith during the days of the Reformation and the rule of Henry VIII. In the middle is a fresco of the Risen Christ with a Soldier, Sailor and Airman. Fortunately the Church has a book of remembrance dedicated to those who were killed during that conflict, many of them were mostly from Bomber Command who were killed in attacks over Germany towards the end of the War, some of them were killed in Normandy in June 1944, one of them was killed whilst serving in the OSS, he was captured whilst on a secret mission in occupied France, and was tortured and executed in October 1944. When I see the book next week I will reveal his identity to you, because I have forgotten his name. Shame on me.

The Third one is a small Incense thurible, it is dedicated to Surgeon Lieutenant Vincent Joseph Redmond Sheridan. His Father, who was a doctor and his mother came to Barnsley in the 1920’s from Scotland and formed a surgery in a large Victorian house across from where the Church still stands. The family were all doctors and provided healthcare to the surrounding area of the town, even right up to the late sixties and early seventies. Coming from a very strong Catholic background, the family attended Mass regularly and were influential in the the Churches maintenance and upkeep. Vincent had been an Altar server just like me, but did well in school and he himself joined into the Medical profession and became a surgeon himself. On the outbreak of War on 3rd September 1939, Vincent joined the Royal Navy and became a Lieutenant Surgeon on one of the Navy’s biggest ships. HMS Kelly.

A K Class destroyer, Kelly had a very eventful entry into the War, used by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in their evacuation from France, she was then mined close to the Tyne Estuary in December 1939, close to where she was originally built. She was tugged back to dry dock for repairs. In the evacuation from Namsos in Norway on 9/10th May 1940, she was torpedoed by a German E-Boat as she was ferrying soldiers home. Managing to be tugged home at two knots, she survived repeated attempts to sink her through torpedoes and bombers. The damage sustained kept her out of service until the following year. Captained by Louis Mountbatten, in April 1941 she sailed towards Malta to assist the British land forces who were operating in the North African theatre. In May 1941 she was sent to Crete to help aid the evacuation of Commonwealth troops who had been overwhelmed by the German Paratroopers who had landed on the Island. On 23rd May 1941 she was attacked by dive bombers and she was sunk, taking half of her crew with her and poor Vincent who was busy in the bowels of the ship looking after the wounded. As Mountbatten quoted afterwards after the loss of his ship and consoling the remaining survivors, “we didn’t leave the Kelly, the Kelly left us!”

Vincent has no grave but the sea, he and so many others lie entombed in the wreck of HMS Kelly, he is remembered at the Naval Memorial at Chatham, alongside 18,600 men who also have no grave but the sea from two world wars. His Parents, who were devastated and disconsolate, bought and dedicated the small incense Thurible to their lost boy. Made of silver, on the bottom is inscribed “In Memory of Lieut Surgeon Vincent JR Sheridan, HMS Kelly, Sunk 23rd May 1941.” It is only ever used twice a year, on 23rd May, the anniversary of his death and on Remembrance Sunday, the Incense used in prayers, reflection and remembrance to those who have been lost from all nationalities. Used only twice a year for the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament, but it is so much more than that. It is to show future generations what the greatest generation did, and to honour that debt, even if it is to signify prayer and thanksgiving to God.

It has significance to me this year, probably more so than ever before, the legacy of the Great War still remains in our hearts. But we also this year have to remember the surviving veterans of D Day, Arnhem, Monte Cassino, Kohima and Imphal, on the 75th Anniversary of those epic struggles in the pursuit of the freedom of the world. That generation who took on the the evil of Nazi Tyranny and oppression of Europe and won. In the words of JRR Tolkien, “the defining battle of our time.”

I hope and wish that many of the veterans get to see the 80th Anniversary in 2024, but time is slowly catching up on those brave men and women. I hope we can keep fresh in our collective memory the sacrifices of these brave souls. It is the torch that they gave us, it is the torch that we by their legacy must pass on.

So next Sunday as the country falls silent, please remember Vincent, remember the stories we cherish and keep close to our hearts. By honouring his sacrifice, I remember them all. They stay with me and they will remain with me. It is my duty to share that devotion to everyone else. Rest in Peace Eternal Vincent, requiscat en pace. Amen.

And the earth abideth forever

Martin Joseph

33 going on 34

The Flanders Sunset, May 2017

Dedicated to my parents on their 35th Wedding Anniversary, their love and devotion to each other has been the foundation stone of my life. In good times and bad.

The photo was taken two years ago at Tyne Cot Cemetery on a beautiful early summer’s evening, it was a balance of light against darkness, the living amongst the dead. This year in particular has brought me closer to my own mortality, visiting the sites of the Western Front has taken on a near spiritual meaning. Having visited the Verdun, Meuse-Argonne, St Mihiel and the Chemin de Dames sectors this year, I like to look back on this particular photo with a certain amount of reflection. It is hard to believe now that those things happened, and that they still continue to happen everyday in parts of the world. My sadness is that these cemeteries, a lesson to us all on how we should treat our fellow man, are slowly being ignored as many countries are being consumed with the horror and carnage of war.

Having started my Masters degree at Wolverhampton University a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t really realised the challenge of it all. But having involved myself in some of the online seminars, it is very interesting to see how people’s opinion vary and their own interpretation to how and why these things happened the way they did. I must admit I found it incredibly interesting, especially in comparing peoples arguments and interpretations of how and why things happened. It has been so far an absolute revelation and it has already opened a lot of doors. That can only be a good thing, I hope so anyway.

This Sunday is my birthday, 33 going on 34. I am going up to the beautiful North Yorkshire coast to Whitby to have a evening of reflection and quiet celebration on Saturday, it is something that I am really looking forward to. I haven’t been to the seaside this year, and i’m looking forward to my Fish and Chips, Ice Cream and doughnut concoction. To see the sunrise on another year can only be a blessing, it is has been a incredible year.

It is hard to believe that Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday is just around the corner. Last November I was in Ypres as a guide for the Centenary for the Armistice, seeing a lone piper piping a lament in Ramparts Cemetery, as St Martin’s Cathedral rang out the victory bells was a moment of reflection unparallelled in my life. Ramparts Cemetery is by far one of the most beautiful cemeteries on the Ypres Salient, it is a cemetery where all of nature’s elements come together. It is a place of reflection and is one of the Jewels in the Salient’s crown, the men who are buried here are so blessed to rest perpetually in a place of such beauty, whilst some of their fellow countrymen still lie unknown in the fields beyond. It is has to be stressed however that there are also unknown Soldiers buried in this special place.

Ramparts Cemetery May 2017

Situated next to the Lille Gate, incorporated into Vauban’s Ramparts which surround the town of Ypres and a few hundred yards away from the place that was once called Shrapnel Corner, it is next to the road where many Allied soldiers marched towards the southern end of the dreaded Salient, places such as St Eloi, the Bluff, Messines. There are only 197 soldiers buried there in comparison to the thousands at Tyne Cot, but it’s significance is just the same and it is still extremely important. I personally said in prayer to these brave warriors, these individuals, some with names, some forever lost in time, Laurence Binyon’s epitaph to the fallen, repeated every evening with reverence underneath the Menin Gate.

“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.”

“We will remember them”

We should remember them, it is absolute ignorance to forget them.

And the Earth abideth forever

Martin Joseph

Academic Introduction

“And we in faith, keep that peace for which they paid”

The view of Thiepval from the Redan Ridge, June 2018

On Friday afternoon, around 2.40 pm at Barnsley train station I will restart on a journey that failed and finished as a 18 year old. I’m travelling to Wolverhampton University to begin my Masters Degree in Britain and the First World War, in an attempt to change and rewrite my own personal destiny, to achieve and succeed in a subject that I have incredibly passionate about. In a a way I see this as my last shot at the title of my life as a whole. It is rather fitting that 101 years ago this weekend that my Great Uncle Martin Joseph Moffat won his his Victoria Cross in the fields of Flanders, the last Irishman to receive that citation in the conflict. Born in Sligo Eire, Martin first fought alongside my Great Grandfather in the Connaught Rangers at the Somme and in the Battle Of Messines in June 1917, he then was transferred into the Leinster Regiment for the remainder of the war. With unending gratitude to one of my friends I had the particular joy of seeing his VC at the Imperial War Museum in London last year, close to the centenary of his citation.

As previously documented my love of the Great War began as a 10 year old at Primary School, fascinated by the famous picture of victorious Allied soldiers at the bridge of Riqueval. The bridge was crossed in late September 1918 in the Hindenburg Line breakthrough north of the town of St Quentin. But it was further influenced by watching Professor Richard Holmes’s BBC series War Walks back in 1996, a dark time as I lost my beloved Grandfather in June of that year, and he introduced me to the Western Front. As Laurence Olivier introduced the Second World War through the acclaimed documentary series The World At War back in the 1970’s. Professor Holmes through 2 episodes, Mons and the Somme sent me on my journey of discovery, I found it intoxicating and mesmerising. Then in Christmas 1996, my Grandmother bought me a book about the 13th and 14th York and Lancaster Regiment. The Barnsley Pals, written by Jon Cooksey. My Christmas revolved around looking at that book, I had to get another copy many years later as i wore the book out with constant reading. The journey had taken it’s first steps.

I never studied the Great War at Primary or Secondary school, I must also admit that it was a tragedy to discover on the History paper of my GCSE exam a Great War question. I had the misfortune of looking at Medicine through time, a topic that I really didn’t particularly enjoy. But the fundamental issue above all is was that I was lazy, I was more interested in playing football, and much to my regret I took things for granted, I expected things to happen, I didn’t work hard enough. I didn’t revise or prepare properly and as one particular teacher once wrote in my report, “He is so laid back he is in danger of falling over”. How those words have tortured me through the years. Then my Journey went dormant, stagnated. I went into work full time and simply breezed through my 20’s without paying much attention to my inner calling. Armistice days and Remembrance Sunday’s kept the flame slowly burning deep in my heart. I lit a candle on the Centenary of the beginning of the Great War in August 2014. It wasn’t until June 2016, just before the Centenary of the Somme battle that I finally saw with my own eyes and walked the hallowed ground of Picardy with my own feet. And by the grace of the Almighty, the flame was re lit, and it started to burn more fierce than ever before.

It is incredible how the littlest things have such a incredible impact on one’s future, and yet some people believe in fate, I hope in two years time that I will have repaid the faith that people have shown in me, there have been times in my young life where I squandered that potential, it is finally time to fly.

Vulnerability and Quiet Solitude

Bedford House Cemetery Ypres

Its finally turning cool again, the days are getting shorter and autumn is on its way, my favourite season of the year. It almost Birthday and Armistice time and that sticks in my mind as it gets closer. I have acquired a new laptop and I’m hopefully going to be able to send a few more blogs more regularly than I have recently. I called the laptop Plumer in honour of one of the few very successful British Generals of the Great War, the first General to achieve a significant breakthrough of the German Lines on the Ypres Salient in June 1917. It was a very hard decision, I also thought of Generals Allenby and Franchet d’Esperay for names but the battlefield of Messines is a very special place to me, it is a place where I can really reconnect and reflect with the events that occurred a century ago. There was no other alternative. It had to be in honour of Field Marshal Plumer of Messines.

The month of September in the Great War was a very significant month for many reasons. One of the principle reasons was that it was the last month where the heat of summer was slowly starting to ebb away. The hot sunshine of summer had kept the ground dry, now it was starting to turn cooler and the days were getting progressively shorter. It was starting to get a lot wetter as the first autumn rains began to shower the troops in the trenches. The long protracted Autumn morning mists created havoc for the heavy guns on both sides as the artillery observers could not see towards enemy positions and dugouts, unable to protect the infantry in the front lines, for which the artillery was designed to do at that time.

September was a month where many of the epic struggles the British Army were involved in during the conflict took place. In 1914 the small British Expeditionary Force after its heroic stand at Mons and Le Cateau in August, after a long retreat southwestwards towards the gates of Paris. The beleaguered British Army stood its ground once again and fought alongside its French counterpart in the titanic clash that was to be called the first Battle of the Marne, and counterattacked the retreating German Army up towards the river Aisne and the Chemin De Dames. The Germans, who now wanted to keep the territory they had seized for the Kaiser, dropped their rifles and subsequently picked up shovels, picks and spades and began to dig defensive trenches on the high banks above the river Aisne. It would be here that they would hold their ground. The Allies would either have to attack them head on or go round the open flank that hadn’t been defended. In late September 1914 both British and German forces fought each other in hastily dug trenches along the Aisne and the Chemin de Dames. Mostly forgotten today these mini engagements would be a fore taste of the horrors to come. Many of the Officers of the Small British Expeditionary Force, many of whom had gone through private education at Eton, and went to universities at Oxford and Cambridge during the Edwardian age. Filled with the stories of Nelson and Wellington, Clive and Wolfe. Potential political leaders and idealists of the future were thrust into a scenario they couldn’t possibly imagine or dream of a few years before. Many of these men and the soldiers they led were killed in futile attacks on the hastily dug German trench lines. Most notably at the village and farm of Soupir on the Aisne. It was on these slopes that the glorious ideals of British Imperialism was now covered in blood.

Soupir Communal Cemetery on the Aisne June 2019

September 1915 saw the British army engage the German army at the tragic battle of Loos. Arguably under significant pressure from the French High Command and the Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener, the Commander of the BEF Sir John French committed himself to an offensive that possibly in truth, he himself could not see succeeding. He decided to attack the German forces in that area with poison gas, partly in retaliation for the German Gas attack in April on the northern side of the Ypres Salient, which had almost achieved a breakthrough of the Western Front but failed. It was also to test the potential of the new chemical weapon and the fighting capability of the new recruits. The objective was to try and achieve a breakthrough that the Germans had been so close to accomplishing in their offensive at Ypres. It was here for the first time that part time soldiers of the British Army, the Territorial force, along with elements of Kitchener’s new armies which had been recruited in the summer months of 1914, would engage the enemy on the Western Front for the very first time.

On observing the potential battle area from the top of Notre Dame de Lorette, a high position that had been recently taken by French Forces, Sir John was not happy with what he saw. The Mining town of Loos was built on a incline,with the German lines going in and around the outskirts of the town. To the north of Loos was the German defensive position known as the Hohenzollen redoubt. a very strong area which had caused many casualties previously in trench raids. To the south was the double crassiers, the slag heaps from the coal mines that surrounded the town. A perfect observation post, and had a completely unrestricted view of the area and of British intentions. Most importantly an attacking force would literally have no cover or protection from the German machine gun defences, if the Germans were able to recover from the Gas attack and the artillery bombardment of the area, the machine gun would become king of the battlefield, and casualties would be horrendous if the plan failed.

The Battlefield of Loos, the double Crassiers in the distance

The Battle of Loos began on the 25th September 1915 and lasted for three days, the Gas attack had mixed results. To the north of the offensive the gas attack failed. The wind direction changed and the poison gas blew toward the British lines causing havoc in the front line trenches filled with soldiers waiting to go over the top. On attacking the Hohenzollern Redoubt, the advancing troops found the German defences intact and the barbed wire still intact. But the British soldiers took the redoubt.

The Gas attack towards Loos was considerably more successful and the town itself was taken on the opening day. Some of the townspeople had still remained in the town, their eyes streaming with the effects of the gas. They recall seeing kilted soldiers with gas masks entering the town, blood streaming down their bayonets.

By the third day the Germans had managed to retrieve the situation, they had lost Loos but had managed to hold Hill 70 to the rear of the town. The reinforcements which Sir John had delayed deploying to the battle zone proved a costly error, the New Army units were mown down by the newly formed German defensive perimeter. 8,000 men out an attacking force of 10,000 were killed or wounded in under 4 hours, the glory of war shattered in one cruel day. In 3 days Britain and her Empire had lost almost 60,000 men and had gone back to their start line from 3 days before. The Germans continually attacked the Hohenzollern Redoubt until they retook the position in October 1915, they held the redoubt until 1918.

The Battle Of Loos, the main effort of the British Army on the Western Front in 1915 failed horrendously and cost Sir John French his job as commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force in December. He was replaced by General Sir Douglas Haig who was to be nicknamed “the butcher”.

A Year on from GP90

August 8th 2018, Ypres Town Cemetery


It has nearly been a year since those glorious few days in France and Belgium, a week that will be forever etched in my mind as one of the definitive moments of my life. The happiness and joy of my first presentation as a guide in Delville Wood on the Somme battlefield is a memory I will forever treasure. To show people your true passion, your vocation as to why you should be on earth is something not many people have the chance to share with others. One moment that is the definition of your whole being, your reason for existence.

I was in a foreign country, representing my town, my county, my home, talking to my fellow countrymen from all different walks of life. Telling them a story that with time will slowly fade into the annals of British military folklore alongside Waterloo and Salamanca. The objective being to give a group of people you have never met before a greater and more better understanding of the events that occurred there, and to also give them the best possible perspective of what happened on both sides of no mans land. Being at Delville wood, although forever intertwined with the heroic men of South Africa, brought me far closer to my identity as a Briton than ever before. I was for one brief moment complete. My reason, my vocation completed.

It was an incredible and immersive experience, to watch the masses of British Legion Standards congregate on the Grote Markt in Ypres on that Wednesday morning was a memory that I will never forget. There was not a single moment in that trip where I felt nothing but joy and quiet accomplishment.

Binyon’s Epitaph of remembrance spoken during the Service of Remembrance in Delville Wood, 6th August 2018

And yet it might not have happened at all, I had considered about giving it all up, and considered making pilgrimages as a tourist for the rest of my life. Luckily I have great people around me, my family and my family from the Great War Battlefield guide community, who gave me great support and encouraged me to put the experience to good use. I also had a very strange source of Inspiration as well to keep the journey going. It was on the rolling fields of Picardy on a Summer Solstice evening at the Butte de Warlencourt in June 2018 alongside Papa that beckoned me back to my vocation. I gazed back down the Albert-Bapaume Road as the Sun set. Then towards the positions of the men of the Durham Light Infantry, who attacked repeatedly towards this ancient Roman burial mound in late October 1916 in horrific conditions. With the newly formed German Stormtroopers as their main adversaries, the Durhams only achieved very limited success, and a very heavy loss of life.

The scene was as Siegfried Sassoon, a talented and somewhat tortured individual who had fought on the Somme once quoted, “Like the background of a painted masterpiece”. The coolness of the breeze running through the cornfields of what was once a torn and destroyed landscape beckoned me back. The Somme had brought me home spiritually and mentally once again. I couldn’t give it up, the tragic majesty of it all wouldnt let me do so, it refused to die within me.

Caterpillar Cemetery on the Somme, 6th August 2018

A year on and there has been a great deal of change in my life. After the magical and powerful Armistice tour which I hold dearly in my heart, there was also the trip to the Somme in March. The trip in late June that has affected me most in my whole entire Great War journey. The trip to the battleground of Verdun, Meuse Argonne and the St Mihiel Sailient. The experience of those places has certainly defined my whole perspective of the Western Front, it opened my eyes that it wasn’t just Britain and her Empire against Germany. France in turn cut one of its main arteries merely to survive, in defiance to the invader. The United States also gave their brave young soldiers in the persuit of freedom and democracy, fresh logs on a fire that had been slowly been burning itself out after 3 years of being lit.

University is slowly emerging on the horizon, and I am slowly gearing myself up for this incredible blessing and undertaking. It is going to be extremely hard. I have no illusions about that, I am however determined to test myself and my overall capability. It is time to show my true potential. I will need as much support as I possibly can in the days and years ahead.

The Menin Gate 10th November 2018

Wednesday was the 102nd Anniversary of the beginning of the third battle of Ypres, commonly known as Passchendaele, arguably one of the most tragic episodes of the Great War. The British Army, full of optimism and confidence after the success at the battle of Messines 7 weeks earlier, attacked towards the Passchendaele Ridge. The overall main objective being to secure and clear the strategic ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge, which were being used by the Germans as main bases for their U boats, which was giving the Royal Navy a considerable headache, in the North Sea and the English Channel.

On 31st July 1917 after another week long preliminary bombardment, the British Army attacked on the north eastern side of the Ypres Sailient, towards Pilckem Ridge and Langemarck. After making a considerably decent start they ran into the Steenbeek, a innocent looking stream, and then it started to rain, and rain and rain and rain. The stream started to flood and the shell cratered landscape, with the natural drains destroyed by years of continual artillery fire began to fill with water. The wounded soldiers, who hadn’t been evacuated to safety slowly drowned helplessly in the shell craters as the rain water engulfed them, never to see the light again.

The dead too became immersed in the muddy water filled pools, never to be seen again or given a decent burial. It was the wettest August for years, the battlefield became a water filled shell hole death trap and a logistical nightmare for both sides. Many soldiers drowned as they fell off the duckboards leading them to the forward positions, in other cases as they were walking wounded back to the dressing stations. The weight of their packs sending them needlessly to their deaths, their comrades trying desperately to save them from their plight. The rain continued unabated into September. In October the rain stopped for a time. the ravaged battlefield began to dry and limited progress was slowly made north of the Menin Road, before the weather turned for the worst again. Yet more men and material were expended in an attempt to break the deadlock, even today historians debate about third Ypres and the futility of it all.

The new German tactic of defence in depth, which had been used on the Somme in 1916 worked incredibly well. A year later it had now been perfected, it had become elastic defence in depth. Germany had turned to the concrete pillbox and bunkers as a means of defence, which caused havoc and carnage amongst the attacking British and Commonwealth troops. The nightmare and martyrdom of Passchendaele commenced. It alongside the Somme would emerge as a word of futility and hopelessness on a scale no one could have possibly imagined possible. It would haunt the British national psyche as the Somme did for generations to come.

It was to become one continual nightmare on top of another. It was for both sides a test of endurance, to see who would give in first. Men from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and finally Canada were used in large scale attacks designed to break the new German pillbox lines of defence, and the losses were on a comparison on both sides to the year before on the Somme. Finally in November 1917, the Canadians, through a battlefield of man made hell, finally achieved the objective of seizing Passchendaele village, 3 months and a week after the offensive had begun. The Battlefield by now resembled a mud churned lunar landscape, villages and farms wiped of the face of the earth, littered with the dead of both sides. After the months of toil the British Army hadn’t even achieved their main objective. It was at Passchendaele for the very first time that the seed of doubt crept into the British Soldiers, who wondered how this slaughter could possibly continue without a outcome. It was to come a year later, under very different circumstances.

Passchendaele Village May 2017

And the earth abideth forever,

M

Nobody sleeps here except the dead,

Douaumont Ossuary and Memorial,

Verdun.

I started coming home extremely early on Friday morning from the great bastion on the Meuse, but I have come back to Britain in a very different and surprising way. Verdun is a place where you are questioned time after time, you are questioned spiritually, you are questioned mentally. Sometimes if you dare to tread under the bowels of the earth as I did for example; Fort Souville and Froideterre you are physically challenged with one overwhelming question,

“How far are you prepared to go within yourself to find the answer?”

Verdun has become a very quiet, peaceful city, a city trying to remember and acknowledge but finding a easier, more suitable solution of coping by trying to forget the past. I personally think the catastrophic defeat of France in 1940 has an overwhelming factor on the mentality of the area. The failure of defeat, in a place where France won her greatest military victory since Napoleon triumphed at Austerlitz. But it feels very very different to places such as Picardy and Flanders in that it is prepared to give you a much closer insight into the realities that these men faced than ever before, it beckons you in, and yet it tries in vain to hide it. It is to anyone with a passion of the Great War a place you must visit in order to truly understand how and why things took such a sinister and dark turn in nature and the capacity of mankind to destroy itself and the earth totally. It is still one of the principle reasons why thousands of our countrymen were sent into the cauldron and catastrophe of the Somme in July 1916. It is also a main reason why so many French soldiers mutinied after the failure of the Nivelle offensive on the Chemin De Dames in late April 1917, Verdun had taken France almost to the point of total exhaustion, and she had simply had enough.

The Site of the legendary Trench of Bayonets

The remnants of trenches, shellholes, fortifications, a world that became underground, a battle of a nation’s immortal soul. The labyrinths of steel, sand and concrete. The battle sites of overwhelming courage and heroism, on which both sides, German and French were totally set on anhilating each other into the abyss. The immortal stories of Colonel Driant, pioneer-Sergeant Kunze, Valiant the carrier pigeon from Fort Vaux, sending the last message from a thirsty and desperate garrison, its commander, Major Raynal desperately needing reinforcements and water for his soldiers, has now become military history folklore. Now nature is fully in control and is allowed to cover and shroud the living wound of the battlefield of Verdun, a living wound that slowly with time will be forgotten and allowed to heal. It is still taught in the French national curriculum, seeing schoolchildren and their history teachers walking underneath the forts was encouraging for the future but now with the centenary of the Great War concluded, it is already seeming to fade into history as Waterloo and Marengo has done before.

The Glorious dead that we are accustomed to here in Britain, remembered, loved and adored in November, become simply the fundamental question of the transformation of the mortal frame to the question of what happens afterwards. The remnants of men under the bowels of Douaumont Ossuary are truly a test of a man’s faith in the belief of life after death. The moral teachings of what I have been taught in love smashed to pieces in the sight of skeletal remains of men who were once French and German soldiers, killing each other with no regrets, believing that God was on their side.

Colonel Driant’s tomb in the Bois de Caures, surrounded by his unknown faithful Chasseurs who died alongside him in the opening days of the Battle Of Verdun

The eastern side of Verdun’s natural ampitheatre, once covered in farmland and peaceful villages such as Fleury, Bezonvaux and Ornes, is now covered in dense forests, the trenches and shellholes slowly being covered over and shrouded after repeated years of Autumn leaves. The remains of the villages heartbreakingly clear to see, the maps of what used to be there over a century ago. These villages that died so that France could survive. with a chapel on the old, destroyed blocks of brick and stone, with one mass said in these small locked chapels annually every year at a certain time. The 2 main centerpieces of the area, is the wonderful memorial museum close to the destroyed village of Fleury, which is absolutely incredible and is worth a visit, and finally the Ossuaire of Douaumont and the cemetery, which dominates the battlefield and shines a light over the forests at night where men once not too long ago were dealt a cruel hand. The windows at the back of the ossuary reveal the dead in their respective chambers of horror and questions ones inner mortal shell in a way that that no other place does. The Ossuary is shaped like a sword hilt driven proudly in defiance to the invader, a beacon and bell tower at the very top of the structure. The best time to visit this place is in the very late evenings of summer, in the midst of such suffering, the birds sing their song, and the dead of France’s Colonies, now lost in the midst of decline after 1945 are appropiately buried toward their place of faith, the Graves of the men from the former Islamic North African colonies are buried facing towards Mecca. The men from Colonies in South East Asia such as Vietnam, buried with honour and dignity, thousands of miles from home.

To the west of the Meuse, the battle sites of the Mort Homme (Dead Man) and Cote 304, are also shrouded in forest and hide the tragedy of the past, but further along the line, you come to the village of Vauquois, a village that was mined into complete oblivion by both sides, the remnants of the front line trenches and mine shafts clear to see and well preserved, and living quietly in peace. Arguably on comparison it is one of the most sacred sites of the living wound that we now know as the Western Front.

Remains of the German Front Line at Vauquois



Verdun has given me a different and more refreshing perspective on what happened on the Western Front in 1916, It was probably because I needed to look at a new and different area, which to me was dominated by Flanders and the Somme, I personally feel better for the change, it was probably one of the best things that I have done on my own personal journey, accompanied once again with Father. We did make fleeting visits to the Somme and to Flanders as we headed towards Zeebrugge.

I leave you this week with a quotation from a letter by a German Soldier killed on the very same day he wrote home to his parents.

“In the midst of the overwhelming, terrifying images that surround me, the thought of going back home is like a golden halo. Don’t worry, I will survive.”

Wherever he is, in the Verdun forests, in the ossuary, in a German cemetery. I hope that golden halo is over his head in heaven, for if it doesnt, well what is the point of having a belief in anything at all. That is the purpose of Verdun. That is why it continues to haunt France, and in a way haunted me too.

The day the Colours came home

100 years ago tomorrow, the colours of the 13th and 14th battalions, York and Lancaster Regiment were placed for all time in St Mary’s Parish Church, in the final act of the story of the Barnsley Pals. It was seen as a moment of triumph, thankgiving and a prayer of remembrance, hopefully that War would never come to Barnsley again.

The parade and ceremony that took place that morning has long faded from memory, only the photos and the order of service that was printed in the local press remain. The Treaty of Versailles was then still a month away, and an occupation force held German territory west of the Rhine as part of the Armistice terms.

The parade was a very symbolic one, touching areas of town that had special links to the Pals as they had departed for Egypt and France in May 1915 and December 1915. The drill hall on Eastgate, where so many men had enlisted with such enthusiasm and hope in 1914, kept the colours overnight in a final farewell, as the Cadre was accomodated in the building.

The order of service for the day,

The Cadre, now reduced to 4 officers and 36 other ranked men had arrived in Southampton just a week before from Dunkirk. A telegram was sent and the authorities made swift preparations for the Civic reception, the schools of Barnsley were padlocked. Allowing Children, many of whom had lost their Fathers and older Brothers a chance to say a final farewell.

The two former commanders of the Battalions, Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Hewitt and Honorary Colonel William Emsley Raley would have their say in the days proceedings as well.

Colonel Hewitt who had raised the 13th Battalion, lost his son Captain George at the Battle of Cambrai on November 27th 1917. George, who was part of the 2/5th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, was never found and is commemorated on the Cambrai memorial at Louverval. He is also remembered on the Hewitt family plot in Barnsley Cemetery.

Colonel Raley, who was now Mayor of the town, had lost two of his sons within a space of a month, and also lost a Nephew on the Somme. Walter Hugh, who was his youngest son, was killed at Fleurbaix on the 14th May 1915, he was part of the 5th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment and is buried at Y Farm cemetery. I had the privilege of visiting his grave earlier this year in March.

his older brother William Henry, who was part of the 3rd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, attached to the 2nd Battalion was killed at Givenchy on 15th June 1915, his remains were never found and his name is enscribed on the Le Touret Memorial in Artois, just a few miles from where he lost his life, I visited the memorial last year with my father, sadly I didnt know that his name was there.

The beautiful memorial at Le Touret, one of the first memorials to the missing of the Great War

His Father stepped down from command from the 2nd Barnsley Pals on the news of the death of his second son. Both of his sons are also commemorated on the Raley Family grave plot at St Thomas Church Worsborough.

What emotions must both of those men have felt as the Cadre arrived up Market Hill with the Colours, The cadre had began the parade at the Queens Ground, which is now part of the training facilities at Barnsley Football Club. It was where back in 1914, the men of Barnsley began their training and drill instructions. 900 men, some with no limbs, some men seriously wounded, those fortunate ones who had escaped unscathed followed behind, many of their comrades left behind in France. As they approached Market Hill in the company of massive crowds and buildings adorned with Union Jacks, the 2 battalion groups split in to their respective formations.

The Pals on their final march to St Marys church,

Colonel Hewitt and Mayor Raley inspected the remnants of their respective Battalions on Market Hill, smashed on the Somme and at respective areas of Artois, Arras, Gavrelle and Oppy Wood where the 2 battalions recieved their solitary battle honour in late June 1917.

The two men walked through the ranks, occasionally stopping to speak to their former soldiers, some of whom had won medals for bravery. Then Mayor Raley began the Civic proceedings with this speech.

Colonel Hewitt speaking to the original Pals Battalion on Market Hill.

“Officers and men of the two Barnsley Service Battalions, we welcome you on this occasion when we are going to say “Goodbye to the Colours” which were given to the 1st Barnsley Battalion in France. You know very well on the 13th May, 4 years ago, the two battalions left this Market Hill for the purpose of training with Colonel Hewitt. You went first to Egypt, then to France. You lads went to these countries and did well until the two Battalions were absorbed in France, you then did well at Bullecourt until your ranks had been reduced to 200 and after that the Battalion became composed of men from all over the country.”

He concluded his speech,

“I hope when we deposit these Colours in the Parish Church today we shall say goodbye to War!!!!! We are looking forward to peace, we hope we shall have peace abroad, but let us have peace at home, and after we have deposited these Colours let us make up our minds that after all this War has not been fought in vain, but that it has brought us nearer together.”

The Cadre proudly approched St Marys and the Church was filled to maximum capacity, the service consisted of the National Anthem, the Last Post and the handing over of the Colours on the Altar Rail. The service was concluded and the surviving veterans were treated to a civic reception at Queens Ground, where refreshments were served, mostly Sandwiches and local ale.

Then the crowds and veterans melted away, trying to get away from the past, having to face a very different future. The Colours still remain in St Marys, sadly in a very sorry condition in a glass cabinet underneath the bell tower.

The Colours in the cabinet

St Marys has an area dedicated to the men of the York and Lancaster Regiment who were killed in 4 years of war, their names encribed on a beautiful memorial in one of the Eastern Chapels of the Church.

The York and Lancaster Memorial in St Marys Church.

In a way the journey had turned full circle, Hewitt and Raley within 10 years would be dead, and then the veterans, having survived another World War slowly faded and melted away into the annals of history. A few in later years would recall and document their memories of a very different, almost Innocent time.

Tomorrow I will walk past the Church close to the time where a century ago, a group of men stepped away from the khaki and rifle and began the rebuilding of their own lives and futures. Yet still scarred with the memory of the friends and comrades in arms that they had lost. Yet having walked over their footsteps on the Somme and at Arras myself, I feel a overwhelming debt of gratitude to them, to Major Guest, Captain Normansell, Frank Bakel, Captain De Ville Smith, Harry Scargill and many others, they gave me their lives and futures so that i can share it to future generations, ensuring their sacrifice was not in vain. I will be certainly remembering the final Chapter of the Story, 100 years where they finally said farewell.

And the Earth abideth Forever

M

Il ne passeront pas

(They will not pass)

That famous quotation spoken by General Robert Nivelle in 1916, is arguably one of the most famous of the great war. It was said at a time of absolute crisis and yet that quotation gave belief and a glimmer of hope to a nation that was literally fighting to stay alive against the attacker who was determined to destroy it.

In a month’s time, myself and my father are visiting a new area of the western front, it is for me a new experience and a brand new challenge, a new battlefield, a new area to learn and study, another great chance to understand the story of over a century ago. The unbelievable and titanic struggle, the unending human suffering. The epic struggle of 2 nations, France and Germany, Gaul and Teuton, one with the intention of bleeding another one white, the other side merely holding on for survival, locked in a do or die duel that lasted longer than any other battle in the great War. This is one of the definitive and notorious battlefields of all time and the 20th century, Verdun.

However the decision to move the focus away from Flanders and the Somme for the year was a extremely difficult one. I love visiting the Ypres Salient and the Somme, but after 3 years its time to explore further south, past Picardy, towards the region of the River Meuse. If anything the events at Verdun in February 1916 above everything else, had massive implications to the lives of thousands of British and Commonwealth Soldiers in the summer of that year, engaged in battle on the Somme.

In December 1915 at Chantilly, the French and British high command discussed the strategy for 1916, they both agreed on a combined summer offensive on the Somme, however the German High Command under General Falkenhayn had also created a plan that was to strike at the very heart of France’s spiritual soul. Verdun.

The operation was called “Gericht” Judgement or place of execution. Falkenhayn believed that if the German Army attacked Verdun, he would put the French army into a position where they, out of duty and obligation would throw every available soldier into the battle to avoid the city’s capture. In his words he would attempt to make France “bleed to death”, under the weight of heavy artillery shelling, flamethrowers and infantry attacks. Verdun would become what Ypres had become to the British, a place of absolute determination.

Verdun, a town on the banks of the Meuse in early 1916, was in most respects a quiet sector for French soldiers, Most of the fighting had been conducted further north in Flanders and Artois, notably north of Arras near Vimy Ridge. Verdun was surrounded and protected by mighty fortresses, and dense woodland. Many of the forts were built and modified after the disaster of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The main fort and lynchpin in the Verdun defensive area was Douaumont, but there was also the Forts of Vaux and Souville which mutually protected each other. In the eyes of the French Public, these forts alone had the ability to repel the German attack towards Verdun and Paris. In February 1916, the French were tested to a new more extreme and extreme limit. The combined offensive on the Somme would now have to become a predominantly British operation, the French high command did commit troops to the offensive on the Somme. But not on the scale that had originally been planned.

Events around Verdun possibly and probably hurried British plans in the attack on the Somme, the fight for survival at Verdun was becoming so severe that Joffre, the French commander in chief begged his ally, the British General Sir Douglas Haig to begin the offensive earlier as he possibly could. Haig, as a result of pressure switched his attack plan from August to late June. The following events in Verdun although ending in overall victory, were not only to haunt France but would also hinder and effect the mental psyche of France for years to come. The failed Nivelle offensive of April 1917 on the Chemin de Dames led to mutiny within the French Army, which had had enough of poor food, poor wages and the French High Command, who were seemingly willing to lose men in poorly co-ordinated operations. General Petain was brought in to retrieve the situation. He did but it would take time for the French army to recover.

It also ensured that Britain and her Empire would be the only force on the western front with the capability to take on the Germans in the remainder of 1917, resulting in the offensives on Messines and Passchendaele. The mutinies made France switch to defensive operations and it took a year for France to recover. Luckily the Germans opposite had no idea of what was going on, and never fortunately capitalised on the opportunity.

20 years later when France was again asked to rise to face Germany in a feat of arms, tactics that had been used in 1914, were now deemed null and void, the forces of the Wehrmacht used new modern and devastating tactics using tanks and aircraft, which led to a catastrophic and humiliating defeat in May-June 1940.

Planning has been long and hard, its going to be a hard 4 hour drive from Zeebrugge to Verdun, but there are a couple of sites im thinking of stopping off near the Chemin de Dames, either the Commonwealth Cemeteries at Vendresse or the villages of Soupir and Pont-Arcy on the banks of the river Aisne. It is going to be difficult for me and most especially for Father, we are going out of the comfort zone but we are certainly looking forward to embracing this new and historic battlefield.

And the Earth Abideth Forever

M