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’.
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.
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 more 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?
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.)