Category Archives: The Great War

We will remember them

DSCN3304[1]For anyone who has family members who fought in The Somme I can recommend a trip to northern France at this time, the 100th anniversary, to show respect and give thanks for the contribution of so many men who gave their lives to try to keep us free from tyranny.

Having walked along small country tracks, treading in the footprints of those men  who lost their lives so tragically, we eventually  reached The Thiepval Memorial, parked and visited the small but informative museum. We made slow progress as we read the many plaques which lined the pathway leading to the memorial arch. Finally we climbed the steps, pausing in the gentle breeze. Gazing upwards, in unity with fellow visitors, we were aware of a silent incomprehensible sense of awe, verging on disbelief, as our eyes scanned the 72,000 or more names of the ‘missing’.DSCN3305[1]

We had done our homework and were able to locate the record of my husband’s great uncle among the dead from The Bedfordshire Regiment on pier and face 2C. His name, already familiar to us from war memorials in Clophill and Ampthill in Bedfordshire, seemed almost insignificant. A life lost. A man taken at the age of only nineteen years in 1916, with a whole life ahead of him cut short. So sad.

DSCN3309[1]I’m not sure how long we paused to reflect. A timeless period when ‘then and now’ seemed one and it was difficult to keep vivid imaginings of battle and bloodshed from disrupting the view of the calm and gentle Normandy countryside.

Our next search, before returning to Arras where we would stay the night, was to find the Adanac Cemetery ~ Canada spelt backwards. It took a while to locate the gravestone of my husband’s other great uncle who lost his life in The Somme. Family have letters from him saying that he is looking forward to coming home. That was just before he died in 1918, aged twenty  seven. It was all the moreDSCN3315[1] poignant to stand beside his actual burial site and we were so aware of how far he was away from his home village of Clophill, which before that time he had never left in his short life.

Then, taking a deep breath we headed to Arras. The squares were full of celebrations for Bastille Day, one with a makeshift beach and games for the children and the other square with tables for alfresco dining with neighbours, friends and family. We ate in our favourite restaurant in the caves under the street, had a good night’s sleep in a local hotel, before awaking to the tragic news of the carnage in Nice. Our hearts were heavy as we headed home.

As we reached Calais, we passed huge barbed wire fences between us and the large immigrant camp. It was difficult not to be filled with despair. Have we learnt nothing in last 100 year that people’s cannot live in harmony and safety even today in our so called civilised society?

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Nevertheless I’m glad we made the trip. It was educational and opened our eyes to the futility of war ~ although without a doubt it was a relief to be home again too.

(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 Bedfordshire, Family History, Memoirs, The Great War, WW1

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

In WW1 Victor returns injured to Riduna (Alderney) ~ the island of his birth

In Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home I have tried to tell less well known tales of the Great War. Having said that, each of the Newton family from Woolston, Southampton played plausible roles in WW1 taking them as far as Turkey and even India. Here Victor, an injured soldier, returns to Riduna (Alderney) the island of his birth, to play his part in the ‘home guard.’ In order to support his family he also went fishing ~ for solace as well as sustenance – although it did not always achieve the peace he longed for: 

When Victor first returned to Riduna (Alderney) he could often be seen fishing on the rocky shoreline to the right of Fort Raz on Longy Bay, a lone silhouette of a figure standing statuesque off an outcrop not far from the sweeping sandy bay. In fact, at first glance he almost looked like a dark rock himself, protruding upright from the shore: a reflection of the Hanging Rock nearby.

Unfortunately, this familiar place where he had always loved to fish with his father and grandfather before him gave him no peace. The coast of France was clearly visible to him. Even with the sound of the sea, it was impossible to block out the echo of distant gunfire, fetching the true reality of the war right to the shoreline. There was no real way of escaping the horrors and the memories.

Instead he began to join the many young lads, fishing for mackerel and mullet off the Breakwater. He stood cheek by jowl, with just enough room to cast the twine into the sea from his long heavy pole. His younger brother William stood on the ledge behind him, attaching the bait and retrieving the captured mackerel, which Victor flicked expertly, as near to William as he could. Their catch was certainly adequate to fulfil the bodily needs of his family, although he still yearned to fish in solitude.

One afternoon he could bear it no more and so, instead of heading for the Breakwater, he began to clamber over the rocks by Fort Doyle. With his brother William holding the rod and bait, skipping lithely from rock to rock, Victor was embarrassed as he struggled and slid over the wet rocks, using both hands to steady himself as he coped with his painful shoulder and injured leg. Many times William looked back and wanted to give Victor support but in the end looked onwards, knowing full well that his older brother would be too proud to accept help. Finally they reached a ledge of rocks which jutted right out into the swirling waters and Victor settled there to gain his breath. William prepared the line for him, untangled the twine from the quill and cork float and attached some mackerel flesh to the hook as bait, carefully squeezing it between his thumb and forefinger. He handed the rod to his brother, knowing instinctively that Victor wanted to fish alone and then went to look for shrimps in the rock pools nearby.

                Before Victor cast the line he sat and looked around him. His eyes spanned between Fort Groznez to his right, standing with pride to defend the harbour and breakwater, to the imposing sight of Fort Tourgis to his left, and the long barracks sweeping down from the horizon towards the stony shores of Clonque Bay. Just across the sea from Fort Tourgis lay the deserted island of Burhou, with dangerous waters swirling around outcrops of rocks as far as the eye could see. As Victor’s eyes swept along the bay and out towards the open sea, he sighed with a rare moment of contentment. He cast his line and as he watched the float bob in the waters in front of him he began to relax. He breathed in the salty air, filling his lungs and clearing his mind. His thoughts drifted in and out of a pleasant emptiness.”

Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home is Diana Jackson’s second novel, set between 1910 and 1920 telling the stories of members of the Newton family as they embark on their own role on The Great War.

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Filed under Alderney, Ancasta, Ancasta e book, Channel Islands, History of Alderney, The Great War, WW1