E13 of Collected Articles
The British Western Front
Comments on individual sites, The Somme, Picardy and Ypres
The slag heaps of Loos-en-Gohelle, Picardy
Loos was to be the main British effort of 1915 with the aim of capturing Lens, an important German headquarters. The infantry assault began on 25th September as the French attacked at Champagne east of Rheims. The very young Lieut. John Kipling of the Irish Guards went missing in action, only many years later was his body established as being in one of the graves at St. Mary’s Advanced Dressing Station Cemetery. The battle was notorious for the sending in of the partly-trained New Army 21st and 24th Divisions which contributed towards the dismissal of Sir John French following their slaughter.
The two large slag heaps side by side were nicknamed ‘the Breasts of Sheba’ and the pithead machinery ‘Tower Bridge’.
Souchez Valley, Picardy
The French attacked on 9th May 1915 as the British attacked Aubers Ridge to the north. The strategically important Notre Dame de Lorette was taken (“who holds the ridge holds Flanders and Picardy” ) and so gradually were the villages in the valley. But the French were driven off the Vimy Ridge and it remained in German hands until Easter Day 1917.
The French national ossuary on the ridge, holding the bones of some 20,000 soldiers, is surrounded by 20,000 individual graves. The lighthouse tower is 52 metres high and its search-light is lit at night
Vimy Ridge, Picardy
It dominated Artois for some 30 months protecting the Douai Plain and its important coalfields. On 9th April 1917, four Canadian Divisions stormed up the Ridge from their subterranean tunnels to drive the Germans off the Ridge. The Memorial commemorates the capture and the 60,000 Canadian dead during the Great War.
The 240-acre park was a gift to Canada from the French Government. During the summer, Canadian students consider it an honour to be guides in the trenches and the tunnels. Unexploded shells still lie in the fenced-off areas.
Lonsdale Cemetery, Somme
The British start-line for the assault on the Leipzig Redoubt guarding the end of the Thiepval Ridge. Sergeant James Turnbull of the 17th Durham Light Infantry used his cricketing prowess to throw both British and German bombs that held back repeated counter-attacks to regain part of the Redoubt. Eventually killed by a sniper, he was awarded the VC and lies in Lonsdale Cemetery.
Thiepval Chateau, Somme
Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of over 73,000 killed on the Somme. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and built over the site of the original Thiepval Chateau. Thiepval Ridge was not taken until September 1916 by the 11th and 18th Divisions. George Butterworth MC, of the Durham Light Infantry, the composer, is commemorated there. The 18th Division Memorial is in the village.
Schwaben Redoubt, Somme
Attacked by the 36 (Ulster) Division on 1 July. Nine of them gained the VC. The Redoubt was mainly underground so the British headstones in the Mill Road Cemetery are laid flat. The Orange Order of Northern Ireland still commemorate the attack on the 1st of July each year.
The Ulster Tower, Somme
A copy of the memorial to Helen, the mother of the Marquis of Dufferin in the family park in County Down where the Division trained before going to France.
Newfoundland Memorial Park, Somme
Covers some 80 acres. On 1 July the soldiers of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the 29th Division, advanced to disaster against prepared German machine-gunners alerted by the blowing of the Hawthorn Ridge mine at 7.20 am, ten minutes before the infantry assaults. The caribou commemorates the main actions of the Newfoundlanders such as at Guedecourt, Monchy-le-Preux and Masnieres. The Black Watch of the 51st Highland Division captured the trenches and the Y Ravine behind some 2 months later.
Hawthorn Ridge and Redan Ridge, Somme
These spurs flank and in 1916 protected the village of Beaumont Hamel, they lie beyond the Y Ravine. The blowing of some 45,000 pounds of ammonal destroyed the Hawthorn Ridge redoubt at 7.20 am – as filmed by Geoffrey Malins. But the 10 minutes delay until the British infantry assaults began at 7.30 am gave the Germans time to man their defences. The assaults failed.
Lochnager Crater, Somme
60,000 lbs of guncotton were used to blow this crater, the largest of several at La Boisselle, measuring some 100 yards across and 30 yards deep. It was bought by Richard Dunning in 1979 to preserve it from the farmers’ ploughs. Just before 2000, the remains of a British soldier were discovered on the southern edge and on the 1st July 2000 were interred with full military honours in Ovillers Cemetery, with family descendents present.
Bazentin Ridge, Somme
After the slow progress during the first two weeks of July, including the 38th (Welsh) Division’s capture of Mametz Wood commemorated by the statue of the Welsh dragon, the British lines were advanced to under Bazentin Ridge. Sir Henry Rawlinson, the 4th Army Commander, put aside Sir Douglas Haig’s objections and decided to bring New Army soldiers up to under the Ridge during the night of the 13th/14th July and assault at first light (3.20 am) following an intense short bombardment by British and French artillery. The attack was so successful at the two Bazentin hamlets that some officers walked across the corn fields to High Wood. Because the cavalry only arrived in the early evening, the Germans recovered and another two months passed before the wood was captured.
Bernafay Wood, Somme
One of the woods that formed German strongholds for artillery observation and command over the surrounding fields. The 30th (Scottish) Division captured it on the night of 3rd July, the wood having been occupied the previous night by the German 12th Reserve Division after lying empty for some 36 hours.
Trones Wood, Somme
After the capture of Bernafay Wood, the 30th Division began to assault Trones Wood on 8th July. With attack and counter-attack, the wood became a charnel house for the Division. Needing it to be captured before the Ridge was taken, the 18th Division went in on the 13th and the wood was cleared by next morning.
Longueval village, Somme
The 9th (Scottish) Division assaulted the village on the 14th July. As a German fortress, Scottish casualties were very high. Hence the sending into Delville Wood of the South African Brigade on the morning of 15th July to bypass the village. Two weeks later the village was eventually cleared by the 5th Division.
Delville Wood, Somme
The article explains the heroic stand of 6 days by the Brigade. The wood was eventually cleared on 15th September when a British tank became the first tank used in military combat.
The avenue of oak trees was grown from acorns brought from Cape Colony, South Africa. The hornbeam tree behind the Commemorative Museum (architect Roy McGinn) is the sole surviving tree and still is riddled with shrapnel. The wood still contains unexploded shells and war dead, some of whom are listed at Thiepval.
The Menin Gate, Ypres
The Memorial is built over the original gate on the road leading from Ypres towards Menin. Other than during the German Occupation, members of the Ypres Fire Brigade and occasionally buglers from British Army units have from July 1927 played the Last Post every evening at 8 pm. The names of nearly 55,000 British Empire casualties never found or unidentifiable are carved on the walls (besides those listed on the Tyne Cot panels).
St George’s Memorial Church, Ypres
Sir John French made an appeal in 1924 for a memorial to the British dead of the Ypres Salient. Following the service of dedication in 1929, the battle flags, chairs and stained glass windows help commemorate the regiments and individual soldiers.
Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres
This was used as a dressing station during Third Ypres. In a nearby dugout, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, Royal Canadian Army Medial Corps, composed the poem “In Flanders’ fields”. He died on 28th January 1918 and is buried at Wimereux just north of the port of Bologne.
The Canadian Memorial at St Julian, Ypres
This memorial at Vancouver Corner commemorates the 2,000 Canadian victims of the first poison gas attack (chlorine gas) at the start of Second Ypres by the German Armies on 22nd April 1915. After the understandable panic and flight of the neighbouring French North African troops, the Canadians held up the German advances until reinforcements arrived. From then on the war became more savage.
The Soldatenfreidhof. On 23rd October 1914, untried German divisions with students marching forward singing and arm-in-arm were slaughtered on the British and French defences during First Ypres. Most lie in massive burial pits because understandably the Belgians and also the French to the south were unwilling to give much ground to Germany for the burial of individuals. Original blockhouses formed part of the fortified Langmark Line.
Tyne Cot, Ypres
Below the Passchendaele Ridge, Tyn Cot is the largest British Commonwealth cemetery in the world. Named by soldiers of the 50th (Northumberland) Division because the concrete bunkers and pillboxes reminded them of cottages along the River Tyne. 11,908 individual graves are there. King George V suggested the Cross of Sacrifice be built above the largest of the remaining blockhouses. The panels on the Memorial to the Missing lists 34,888 names of those who were killed with no known grave between mid-August 1917 and the Armistice.
The briefing prepared for the visit of the Earl and Countess of Leicester, their sons and friends to the Somme, Picardy and Ypres, organized by Douglas Skene, 7 to 10 June 2007.