Category Archives: somme

Reflections on a day that I will never forget

Having now returned from the Somme, via a very nasty Channel crossing on Friday evening, it is time to reflect on a very interesting and informative couple of days.

The personal tour that we had arranged with our host was absolutely superb – Vic is an expert on the war and, as well as doing general coach tours of the front, he is happy to spend a day with guests exploring more personal stories. He had previously advised where he thought that my Great-Grandfather William was on that day, but having done some more research for this visit, the story expanded and developed somewhat.

It now appears that he was an ambulance driver attached to a unit that were ferrying the injured from the front line near Fricourt to various medical stations back to the field hospital in Corbie. On the 26th November 1915, the ambulances were waiting or being serviced in a village called Méricourt-l’Abbé, where there is also a railway station in the village on a line used to supply the front. According to the war diaries, there was an aerial attack by the Germans on the station and the ambulances were destroyed.

In the cemetery in the village, there are half a dozen graves from that same day, linked to this event. There was another younger driver also from Norwich, who has an Army number within 40 of William and I suspect enlisted on the same day. There is a medical orderly there and others associated with the transport section. These graves tell their own story, but not the reason why William enlisted so late in life, well beyond the normal age limit. It is likely that he was accepted because he was a driver in civilian life and had previously spent time in the territorials, but there is a possibility that local people in Norfolk raised money to buy or sponsor an ambulance and he enlisted to be its driver. This is worth exploring further, so maybe a couple of days in Norwich in the New Year might be on the cards.

William would have been mortally wounded and taken back to his hospital, where he died the same day.

We also visited other positions along that route including one of the cemeteries at Point 110, a location that I had visited 10 years ago. On arrival, we met the Brudenell family, who were there to remember their own Great-Grandfather, killed on the same day as William. They may have known each other – who knows? It was a pleasure talking to the various family members who had also made the journey especially.

Later in the afternoon, we found the location where my Great-Uncle was killed, in October 2016. He has no known grave and is therefore one of the 72,000 names on the Thiepval Memorial to the unknown. However, we did find an Unknown Soldier’s grave in an adjacent cemetery which specifically has the regiment of the man on the stone. This was his regiment and so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the man buried there is him. His regiment sustained over 200 casualties that day, of whom probably 70 were killed. It is only possible to find around half a dozen named and dated graves from that action, meaning that maybe 60 were never found or are unknown dead. And the result of this action? A German trench was held for 6 hours until the British troops that managed to get that far ran out of ammunition, at which point they retreated back to their original trench at the bottom of the field.

All in all, it was a day that I will never forget. For we must never forget what these men gave up for us.

W. R. Barton (smaller)

Feet up in a B&B on the Somme

100 years ago tomorrow my Great-Grandfather was killed on the Somme. There were no big battles going on. No big offensives, apart from the fact that the whole war was pretty offensive. Just the day to day killing that went on regardless.

We are staying in a tiny B&B run by an English couple. The husband does battlefield tours and is taking us on a personal tour tomorrow to show us what happened on that day, as best we can find out. Previously, I had thought that he was a stretcher bearer, but it seems that he was most probably driving an ambulance which  was hit by fire from a German aircraft. He was with two others who died that day. They were killed instantly, but he was mortally wounded and died later that day in a field hospital.

He had volunteered at the age of 37/38 and left a wife and three children at home in Norfolk. Why he volunteered at such a late age we have no idea but it will be worth finding out more when we get home.

It’s quite a strange feeling. Having been in this very B&B exactly 10 years ago, I have been looking forward to this personal tour since. But it’s a bit like going to the funeral of someone you could never have known but who was fundamental to who you are. Someone who gave his life so that I can enjoy the life that I do. I will share my feelings on the day when we get back.

Here is a quick iPhone shot of Mill Road cemetery, near the Thiepval memorial to the men who have no known grave and the Ulster Tower. There are 1304 men in this place.

They leave long shadows.

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Sunshine (?), snow and a scan

Having now shared the location of next year’s One Challenge with the Leica Forum, I will also share it here. The group decided, after dinner in Vienna, that next year we should all assemble in Lisbon. There was some discussion regarding how to vote for the venue for next year and we did change things slightly this time round. It’s still not perfect though, and I want to make sure that everyone who votes has an equal vote – at present those who tick against the list last are often presented with a fait accompli. Will try to work out an even better way for next time.

I have been to Lisbon before, on a school cruise in an old troop-ship called the SS Nevassa. This would have been in 1972, when I was not yet 11 and I am looking forward to it. It will be nice to get some sunshine, with a bit of luck, and we could even extend the stay to drive up the Atlantic coast and compare with California last spring. We will see. Maybe I could take my diary that I wrote as part of the school trip as a guide. “First we did this and then we did that” – bound to be useful.

Next up, however, is the trip to see my Great Grandfather William, buried on the Somme. He was mortally wounded in the field and died on 26th November 1915. We have arranged a personal battlefield tour from an English chap who, with his wife, runs a B&B on the front line, not far from where William is buried. I am sure it will be an emotional day. We were there 10 years ago and it was freezing cold and snowing, which helped to bring home what men had to put up with out there. We have often visited during the summer on the way to or from a holiday in France, but never at the beginning of winter before. This guide has an incredible library of information in his house and while we were there last time, told me lots about what William was up to out there that I didn’t know before. I need to make sure I write it all down, so that I can pass it on to my Dad.

In March, the plan is to head north and to Norway to see, with a bit of luck, the Northern Lights. I need to get that sorted soon, as it is becoming an increasingly popular thing to do, so hotels and the like might be difficult. I will try to sort that all out this week, but it’s going to take a bit of planning. I don’t think that we can afford the cruise on one of the post ships that run up and down the coast, so maybe will hire a 4×4 instead and head to the hills ourselves. Our good friends who live in Oslo have offered to put us up for the weekend we arrive, so that will be a real treat in itself.

As the weather turns distinctly autumnal, the clocks have gone back and it’s dark on the way home, it will soon be time to have my annual CT scan. I arranged this when I saw my consultant back in June and he said that he wanted me to have it at the end of November / first week in December. That’s not long now, really, not the way that diaries fill up these days. Not having heard anything from The Christie, I called them this morning. They only book CT scans 6 weeks in advance, and the book for the week beginning 30/11 will not open until later today, so they have offered to call me back.

I’m looking forward to it. When he reads the results, I am, of course, hoping that the disease is in exactly the same state as it was last Christmas but there is only one way to find out. As far as I can tell, within myself, I am pretty sure that it’s just sitting there doing nothing at present, but it will be good to know for sure.

Doesn’t seem like more than a few weeks since I was last there, but that’s another story…

[And this is the 300th post on this blog – thanks to those of you who have been with me through thick and thin and to everyone else who reads it. Your support is absolutely invaluable and much appreciated]