Search

First World War centenary: Battlefields trip day two

PUBLISHED: 23:03 09 February 2015 | UPDATED: 10:48 10 February 2015

The group at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park in the Somme. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

The group at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park in the Somme. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

Archant

On July 1 1916, thousands of soldiers walked across to German lines on the Western Front and began their assaults, confident their enemy had been weakened by a week-long bombardment of 1.6 million shells.

The London Cemetery. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityThe London Cemetery. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

But this proved to be a fatal error.

Many of the shells failed to explode and the Germans, who knew an Allied attack would follow the bombardment, patiently waited underground before unleashing a wave of machine gun fire.

This was the first day of the Battle of the Somme, during which 60,000 British soldiers died or were wounded, with 20,000 killed.

This was the worst single day for fatalities in the history of the British Army and the battle, which also hit the Germans hard, has come to represent the sheer loss of life incurred by the fierce fighting of the First World War.

Thiepval Memorial. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityThiepval Memorial. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

As our tour guide Allan Wood explained, the British and French had been planning a combined assault on the Germans but, with the French besieged at Verdun, they decided to stage an offensive on their own.

The battle, which ended in November with the Allies having only gained five miles, resulted in approximately 420,000 British casualties and thousands of men went missing.

It was to the memorials of these soldiers that we travelled yesterday.

We started off at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park, which is maintained by the Canadian government.

The caribou statue at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityThe caribou statue at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

The battlefield, which contains three cemeteries, was preserved and features its original trench lines.

A caribou statue stands proudly on the Memorial to the Missing, chosen because it was the symbol of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Newfoundland, which joined the Canadian Confederation in 1949, was a British dominion at the time of the First World War and the regiment suffered the worst fate of any unit on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Out of 801 men, 386 were wounded, 233 were killed or died of their wounds and 91 went missing.

The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityThe Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

After taking in the park’s sights, we listened to an American journalist’s emotive account of the battle, obtained through interviews with survivors.

It told how a soldier who had been shot in both his knees crawled in agony across No Man’s Land, forcing himself to stand so he could hurl himself over a trench, only to find his comrades were dead.

Other visits were to the London Cemetery and the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

The latter, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the famed architect, was built between 1928 and 1932 and commemorates 72,193 British and South African soldiers.

The imposing structure, the largest British war memorial in the world, also features a cemetery and memorial for British and French soldiers.

Our day included a poignant detour to Connaught Cemetery, where my great-great uncle is buried.

But I will reveal more on this later on.

Latest Barking and Dagenham Stories

9 minutes ago

Dagenham & Redbridge manager Peter Taylor will hope to avoid a repeat of their past mistakes when they make the trip to Halifax Town this weekend.

After getting out on 49 last month and making double figures numerous times, the 21-year-old claimed his maiden fifty in T20 cricket last night

10:00

Barking will play their first home game of the season when they welcome Witham Town to Mayesbrook Park this weekend.

A misconduct panel heard how James Durrance, a special constable with Essex Police, told Asda security and employees that he was an officer following the incident on June 9, 2016, and showed his warrant card.

Barking MP Dame Margaret Hodge has likened a Labour Party disciplinary investigation into her conduct to the persecution faced by Jews in Nazi Germany.

Forget Love Island – Barking and Dagenham Council has launched a new series which is sure to get you gripped.

PROMOTED CONTENT

Barking and Dagenham is home to Better Extreme, London’s largest indoor skatepark. Whatever your discipline, be it skateboarding, inline, BMX or scootering, there’s a challenge waiting for you.

Barking Sporthouse has a wide range of fun things to do with your children this summer

The festive season is a hectic time for many, with frenzied dashes to the shops for groceries and gifts, and parties to arrange and attend.

Newsletter Sign Up

Barking and Dagenham Post twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read news

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Barking and Dagenham Post
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now