A Poignant and Unexpected Walk in The Somme

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Classic Le Mans

We were travelling through France this summer to fulfill two of my husband’s dreams. The first was to attend Classic Le Mans, an exciting series of car races on this famous circuit, reflecting the early eras  of racing ~ each group of cars from the 1920’s to 1960’s racing over a 24 hour period. An event such as this takes you back in time and I love to imagine the crowds through the ages, their style of dress and way of life, quite removed from our own. We did not watch through the night, although I’m sure many did, but instead enjoyed the warm ambiance of the historic centre of Le Mans, well worth a visit.

My husband’s second wish was to visit The Somme where two of his great uncles died, all the more poignant since our trip coincided with the 100 year commemorations. It was Bastille Day, quiet in many villages we passed through, and so we stopped at the small town of Albert for lunch before setting the sat nav to The Thiepval Memorial. I had in fact looked at a map and reasoned that it might be better to travel a little further on the larger roads but I was overruled.

We turned right down a small side street which led into a little lane. The narrower our chosen route became the more nervous we all felt. By the time there was grass up the middle and pit holes only suitable for tractors it was too late and impossible to turn my husband’s jaguar. There was no choice but for us three passengers to  bale out. I walked in front of the car pointing to the highest ridges as hubby crept painfully forward. The sun was shining. We could just catch glimpses of the memorial over the hedges, approximately two miles away. At times we held our breath. Was the car going to bottom out on the large flint boulders? It would be impossible to reverse safely all that way back.

Surrounded by fields, rolling hills and wooded glades it would have been a beautiful stroll in the French countryside. We were filled with conflicting emotions. It was in those moments that I experienced visions of our men 100 years ago in WW1, trudging along that very same path, following carts loaded with men or armaments on the way to war or with the injured on the way home. I was humbled to imagine treading in their footsteps and wondered what they had been thinking. Many in the early days must have been excited, elated to be on an adventure ~ and yet, closer to the reality of war, the intensity of fear must have filled the air with each step.

Awakened from my reverie, I gasped at the sight of a ford ahead of us,  but was flooded with relief a hundred metres on to see that the track, previously hidden from view, veered to the right well above water level. Soon after this the surface became gravel and then tarmac and we were able to get back in the car and continue to our destination, The Thiepval Memorial.

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Thiepval Memorial

(Diana Jackson has written two books partly set during The Great War.

‘Ancasta ~ Guide me Swiftly Home’ is historical fiction, a family saga set between 1910 and 1920 which also reflects the story of early flying boats and sea planes.

‘Murder, Now and Then’ is a mystery of two murders set 100 years apart.)

 

 

 

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Filed under The Great War, Then and Now, WW1

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