Tuesday 19 September and our team deployed to the 1916 front, to take in key sites relating to the First Day of the Somme, and the AIF involvement at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm.
Looking skywards it was apparent the weather gods were going to be kind to us which was a relief after the previous couple of days. Blue skies and sunshine was the go. With packed lunches safely aboard we sallied forth to ‘The Start Line’.
First stop was La Boiselle, site of the Lochnagar mine crater site, where a massive mine was detonated, one of 16, on 1 July 1916. Visitors are always amazed by the size of the crater, and the slaughter among the British troops that ensued in spite of it.
Having marked more or less the right of the front we then set off to the other side at the Newfoundland Memorial Park near Beaumont Hamel. This park never ceases to amaze visitors as the Canadians Government has done such a marvellous job of preserving the battlefield and providing excellent interpretive resources and their company of guides; university students on four month attachment. It pays to visit the Interpretive Centre first as it provides perfect context for the view across the battlefield.
From there we went to Thiepval the centre of attention of the 1st July and the epicentre of British loss on that terrible day.
The sheer size of the Thiepval memorial dominates the landscape and it is now more recently wonderfully complemented by the Interpretive centre and its magnificent mural illustrating the endeavours of troops from rear area to the firing steps of the forward trenches.
We then moved to the Australian sector of the 1916 front via Mouquet Farm and then in succession the 1st Division Memorial. the Gibraltar Blockhouse and the Windmill. The land around the windmill has been purchased by interests representing the 2nd and 4th Divisions. There are two 'new' memorials on the acquired land, which in the consensus opinion of our party, detract from rather than enhance the hallowed ground of the Windmill. The Animal Memorial is just not appropriate for that site – it detracts from the significance of the Windmill site qand its execution is not at all professional. It is entirely appropriate that a commemoration of animals take place – but not there. While the intent is respected the execution is not and the result degrades the significance of the site particularly compared to sites controlled by private trusts such as that which manages the Lochnagar site at La Boiselle.
Our party then made the short journey to Courcellette cemetery in which the remains of many of the 2nd and 4th Division soldiers lost from 4 August to early September 1916 are interred. Someone had left a relic in the form of an unexploded 18 pounder shell on the cemetery wall.
Homeward bound to Peronne we called in at Longueval and through Flers Guedecourt, where the AIF spent the winter of 1916/7.
At L'Historial, we were made very welcome by our host Dominic and given a comprehensive guided tour of this splendid museum. Dominic spoke very fondly of his friend "The White Wolf" – none other than BHT principal Graham Fleeton.
After a quick refresh we ended our 'First Day on the Somme' with another excellent dinner together in our hotel. Everyone was feeling a little weary as we looked to have an early evening.