Day 4:    The Boys Crater at the very Somme-ber trenches of Beaumont-Hamel

 

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After all the rain and a good night's sleep Mike, Bone, and Ron awoke feeling great and booked outside to a bright and sunny day! They used their Female (really!) Francais navigator, a little Google (when in signal) and the "Force" to navigate the winding side roads from Ypres down into Northern France. It was a brisk morning (not feeling like Summer at all!) as the Boys drove through forests and small villages south into the Town of Arras, where they were gonna squeeze in an unplanned Great War visit, Vimy Ridge!! So after missing the entrance three times due to bad directions, the Boys pulled into the first French World War I site,,,,, or was it!

Bomb Craters in the Canadian Mist!

Canada!? has the Boys pulled in to the Vimy Park entrance it was in English and stated it was being run by the Canadian Government, is this France? The the Boys take a wrong turn with all their bad SatNav? Nope!

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is a war memorial site in France dedicated to the memory of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War. It also serves as the place of commemoration for Canadian soldiers of the First World War killed or presumed dead in France who have no known grave. The monument is the centerpiece of a 250-acre preserved battlefield park that encompasses a portion of the ground over which the Canadian Corps made their assault during the initial Battle of Vimy Ridge offensive of the Battle of Arras.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force participated in a battle as a cohesive formation, and it became a Canadian national symbol of achievement and sacrifice. France ceded to Canada perpetual use of a portion of land on Vimy Ridge on the understanding that Canada use the land to establish a battlefield park and memorial. Wartime tunnels, trenches, craters, and unexploded munitions still honeycomb the grounds of the site, which remains largely closed off for reasons of public safety. Along with preserved trench lines, several other memorials and cemeteries are contained within the park.

The project took designer Walter Seymour Allward eleven years to build. King Edward VIII unveiled it on 26 July 1936 in the presence of French President Albert Lebrun and a crowd of over 50,000 people, including 6,200 attendees from Canada. Following an extensive multi-year restoration, Queen Elizabeth II re-dedicated the monument on 9 April 2007 at a ceremony commemorating the 90th anniversary of the battle. The site is maintained by Veterans Affairs Canada. The Vimy Memorial is one of only two National Historic Sites of Canada located outside the country, the other being the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial (where Mike, Ron, and Bone were heading later in the day.)

Some of the many trenches of Vimy Ridge!

Canadien or Canadian!? Being in Francais, you mighta thought that at least the staff would be French Canadian, but nope a a group of very striking college girls, dressed as Boy scouts greeted the Boys into the Visitor Center with "Hooow youu doin' eh?!"  in their best Canuck English!! Definitely Canadian! Apparently Canadian Government has a program that cycles interested college students year around in these visitor centers, where they are trained on the history of the battle and the area and in return they get to live in France, they were awesome tour guides.

The Guides shared an overview of the Battle of Vimy Ridge was part of the Arras Campaign, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. The main combatants were four divisions of the Canadian Corps in the First Army (Hence, why the Canadian management of the site), against three divisions of the German 6th Army, the first attack of the Nivelle Offensive, which was intended to attract German reserves from the French, before their attempt at a decisive offensive on the Aisne and the Chemin des Dames ridge further south.

The Canadian Corps was to capture the German-held high ground of Vimy Ridge, an escarpment on the northern flank of the Arras front. This would protect the First Army and the Third Army farther south from German enfilade fire. Supported by a creeping barrage, the Canadian Corps captured most of the ridge during the first day of the attack. The village of Thélus fell during the second day, as did the crest of the ridge, once the Canadian Corps overran a salient against considerable German resistance. The final objective, a fortified knoll located outside the village of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, fell to the Canadians on 12 April. The 6th Army then retreated to the Oppy–Méricourt line.  

Tunnel Vision !!!

Next, the tour guide took the Boys down into one of the many tunnels in the area!  Vimy Ridge is an escarpment 8 km (5.0 mi) northeast of Arras on the western edge of the Douai Plain. The ridge rises gradually on its western side and drops more quickly on the eastern side. At approximately 4.3 mile in length and culminating at an elevation of 476 ft above the Douai Plains, the ridge provides a natural unobstructed view for many miles in all directions.

The Ridge fell under German control in October 1914 during the Race to the Sea as the Franco-British and German forces continually attempted to outflank each other through northeastern France. The French Tenth Army attempted to dislodge the Germans from the region during the Second Battle of Artois in May 1915 by attacking their positions at Vimy Ridge and Notre Dame de Lorette. The French 1st Moroccan Division managed to briefly capture the height of the ridge but was unable to hold it owing to a lack of reinforcements. The French made another attempt during the Third Battle of Artois in September 1915 but only captured the village of Souchez at the western base of the ridge. The Vimy sector calmed following the offensive with both sides taking a largely live and let live approach. In all, the French suffered approximately 150,000 casualties in their attempts to gain control of Vimy Ridge and surrounding territory.

The British XVII Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, relieved the French Tenth Army in the sector in February 1916, permitting the French to expand their operations at Verdun. The British soon discovered that German tunnelling companies had taken advantage of the relative calm on the surface to build an extensive network of tunnels and deep mines from which they would attack French positions by setting off explosive charges underneath their trenches.

Miners Bone, Mike, and Ron!!! (Definitely not Minors!!)

The Royal Engineers immediately deployed specialist tunnelling companies along the front to combat the German mining operations. In response to increased British mining aggression, German artillery and trench mortar fire intensified in early May 1916. On 21 May 1916, after shelling both forward trenches and divisional artillery positions from no less than 80 out-of-sight batteries on the reverse slope of the ridge, the German infantry began operation Schleswig Holstein, an attack on the British lines along a 2,000 yd (1,800 m) front in an effort to eject them from positions along the ridge. The Germans captured several British-controlled tunnels and mine craters before halting their advance and entrenching their positions. Small counterattacks by units of the 140th and 141st British Brigades took place on 22 May but did not manage to change the situation. The Canadian Corps relieved the British IV Corps stationed along the western slopes of Vimy Ridge in October 1916. It was in one of these tunnels the Tour Guides took the Boys.

Gettin' the "down low" of the story of the Battle from the Tour Guide in the Tunnel!

"So da Canadians were winners,,, Eh?!!

The Boy heard how the success of the Canadian Corps was attributed to technical and tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery support and extensive training, as well as the failure of the German 6th Army properly to apply the new German defensive doctrine.  The Germans, however did not see the Canadian Corps's capture of Vimy Ridge as a loss. Contemporary German sources viewed the action, at worst, as a draw, given that no full-scale breakthrough occurred following the attack. The Germans did not attempt to recapture the ridge, even during the Spring Offensive and it remained under British control until the end of the war. The loss of Vimy Ridge forced the Germans to reassess their defensive strategy in the area. Instead of mounting a counterattack, they pursued a scorched earth policy and retreated to the Oppy–Méricourt line. The complete failure of the French Nivelle Offensive in the week after the Arras Offensive placed pressure on Field Marshal Douglas Haig to keep the Germans occupied in the Arras sector to minimize French losses. The Canadian Corps participated in several of these actions including the Battle of Arleux and the Third Battle.

Coming out of the Tunnel the Boys heard how The battle was the first occasion when all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together and it was made a symbol of Canadian national achievement and sacrifice. With that they planned to checkout the remaining part of the 250-acre portion of the former battleground . . . . . . . Except . . . . . .

Pillboxes, Trenches, and Meechigan Doughboys!

So close, but oh so far!!!

The Canadians built an amazing 250 foot Monument to their victory, but then they posted signs everywhere not to walk around due to unexploded ordinance from the Battle! After the very visceral example of an unexploded gas bomb yesterday, Mike, Bone, and Ron did not want to test the assertion!!!!!  

With Vimy Ridge complete, they motored west along through the very bucolic French countryside for the next couple of hours driving through little French villages, until they started to see cemeteries popping up like cornfields, a telltale sign of the Battle of the Somme!!!  

Mike and Ron, in first of many Somme Cemeteries

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Why so many cemeteries you say, well the Battle of the Somme took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle was intended to hasten a victory for the Allies and was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front. More than three million men fought in this battle and one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

A British Memorial to an Irish Brigade

The French and British had committed themselves to an offensive on the Somme during Allied discussions at Chantilly, Oise, in December 1915. The Allies agreed upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers in 1916, by the French, Russian, British and Italian armies, with the Somme offensive as the Franco-British contribution. Initial plans called for the French army to undertake the main part of the Somme offensive, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force. When the German Army began the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse on 21 February 1916, French commanders diverted many of the divisions intended for the Somme and the "supporting" attack by the British became the principal effort. The reduction in French Troops, and the unbelievable optimism (or arrogance) of the British Commander Sir Douglas Haig is the reason for so many cemeteries.

The causalities were appalling, the Battle of the Somme was one of the costliest battles of World War I. The original Allied estimate of casualties on the Somme, made at the Chantilly Conference on 15 November 1916, was 485,000 British and French casualties and 630,000 German.

As one German officer wrote,  Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word.  — Friedrich Steinbrecher 

In 1931, Wendt published a comparison of German and British-French casualties which showed an average of 30 percent more Allied casualties than German losses on the Somme. The German army was exhausted by the end of 1916, with loss of morale and the cumulative effects of attrition and frequent defeats causing it to collapse in 1918, a process which began on the Somme, echoing Churchill that the German soldiery was never the same again. As the Boys pondered the magnitude of the Somme, they pulled into the Beaumont-Hamel Battlefield....

The Boys Canadian Tour Guide in the front of the Beaumont-Somme Battlefield

 

The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial is a memorial site in France dedicated to the commemoration of Dominion of Newfoundland forces members who were killed during World War I. The 74-acre preserved battlefield park encompasses the grounds over which the Newfoundland Regiment made their unsuccessful attack on 1 July 1916 during the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The Battle of the Somme was the regiment's first major engagement, and during an assault that lasted approximately 30 minutes the regiment was all but wiped out. Purchased in 1921 by the people of Newfoundland, the memorial site is the largest battalion memorial on the Western Front, and the largest area of the Somme battlefield that has been preserved. Along with preserved trench lines, there are a number of memorials and cemeteries contained within the site.

You see the the original British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of six divisions and the Cavalry Division, had lost most of the army's pre-war regular soldiers in the battles of 1914 and 1915. The bulk of the army was made up of volunteers of the Territorial Force and Lord Kitchener's New Army, which had begun forming in August 1914. Rapid expansion created many vacancies for senior commands and specialist functions, which led to many appointments of retired officers and inexperienced newcomers. In 1914, Douglas Haig had been a lieutenant-general in command of I Corps and was promoted to command the First Army in early 1915 and then the BEF in December, which eventually comprised five armies with sixty divisions. The swift increase in the size of the army reduced the average level of experience within it and created an acute equipment shortage. Many officers resorted to directive command, to avoid delegating to novice subordinates, although divisional commanders were given great latitude in training and planning for the attack of 1 July, since the heterogeneous nature of the 1916 army made it impossible for corps and army commanders to know the capacity of each division. The Newfoundland Regiment was one of what was called "Kitchner's Army.

Officially opened by British Field Marshal Earl Haig in 1925, the memorial site is the second National Historic Sites of Canada that the Boys checked out that day. The memorial site and experience of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel has come to represent the Newfoundland First World War experience. As a result, it has become a Newfoundland symbol of sacrifice and a source of identity.  

Ron, Bone and Mike in the British Trenches right next to "No-Man's Land" on that Bloody first day

The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial is a memorial site in France dedicated to the commemoration of Dominion of Newfoundland forces members who were killed during World War I. The 74-acre preserved battlefield park encompasses the grounds over which the Newfoundland Regiment made their unsuccessful attack on 1 July 1916 during the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The Battle of the Somme was the regiment's first major engagement, and during an assault that lasted approximately 30 minutes the regiment was all but wiped out. Purchased in 1921 by the people of Newfoundland, the memorial site is the largest battalion memorial on the Western Front, and the largest area of the Somme battlefield that has been preserved. Along with preserved trench lines, there are a number of memorials and cemeteries contained within the site.

The very charming Tour Guide told the Boys that while the Battle of the Somme went on for several months, it was that bloody first day, in particular in the first 20 minutes! Mike, Bone, and Ron were in ground zero of that first bloodbath of the Somme at Beaumont-Hamel.  

The infantry assault by the British on 1 July 1916 was to be preceded ten minutes earlier by a mine explosion under the heavily fortified Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt. The explosion of the 40,000 lb Hawthorn Mine underneath the German lines successfully destroyed a major enemy strong point but also served to alert the German forces to the imminent attack.

Following the explosion, British Troops immediately deployed from their dugouts into the firing line, even preventing the British from taking control of the resulting crater as they had planned. When the assault finally began, the troops from the 86th and 87th Brigade of the 29th British Division were quickly stopped. With the exception of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on the right flank, the initial assault foundered in No Man's Land at, or short of, the German barbed wire. At divisional headquarters, Major-General Beauvoir De Lisle and his staff were trying to unravel the numerous and confusing messages coming back from observation posts, contact aircraft and the two leading brigades. There were indications that some troops had broken into and gone beyond the German first line. In an effort to exploit the perceived break in the German line he ordered the 88th Brigade, which was in reserve, to send forward two battalions to support attack.

That first day of the Battle of the Somme had been an abject failure, a disaster for the British Army, and the worst day in British military history.   

Ron, Bone, and Mike, ready to rush the Huns at 7:20 in the Morning!!!

The British jumping out point in St. John's Road Trench, 100 yards from the Germans (ni the Tree Line)

At 8:45 a.m. the Newfoundland Regiment and 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment received orders to move forward from the VERY spot Mike, Ron, and Bone are standing in the picture. The Newfoundland Regiment was situated at St. John's Road, a support trench 250 yards behind the British forward line and out of sight of the enemy. Movement forward through the communication trenches was not possible because they were congested with dead and wounded men and under shell fire. Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Lovell Hadow, the battalion commander, decided to move immediately into attack formation and advance across the surface, which involved first navigating through the British barbed wire defenses. As they breasted the skyline behind the British first line, they were effectively the only troops moving on the battlefield and clearly visible to the German defenders.

The Danger Tree in No Man's Land!!

Subjected to the full force of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment, most of the Newfoundland Regiment who had started forward were dead, dying or wounded within 15 to 20 minutes of leaving St. John's Road trench. Most reached no further than the Danger Tree, a skeleton of a tree that lay in No Man's Land that was being utilized as a landmark, amazingly, with all the bombing, bullets, and time it is still there (see above).  

"Get them Hun's Over Dere!", the sad spot that 20,000 British Soldiers died in 10 minutes on July 1 1915

So far as can be ascertained, 22 officers and 758 other ranks were directly involved in the advance. Of these, all the officers and slightly under 658 other ranks became casualties. Of the 780 men who went forward only about 110 survived unscathed, of whom only 68 were available for roll call the following day. For all intents and purposes the Newfoundland Regiment had been wiped out, the unit as a whole having suffered a casualty rate of approximately 80%. The only unit to suffer greater casualties during the attack was the 10th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, attacking west of Fricourt village.

While that first day on the Somme saw a serious defeat for the German Second Army, which was forced out of its first position by the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre south of the Somme to Maricourt on the north bank and by the Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the Albert–Bapaume road. The first day on the Somme was, in terms of casualties, also the worst day in the history of the British army, which suffered 57,470 casualties. 

The Newfoundland Regiments Memorial, overlooking the German Position

The memorial is a bronze caribou, the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, standing atop a cairn of Newfoundland granite facing the former foe with head thrown high in defiance. At the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial site the mound rises approximately 50 feet from ground level.

The mounds are also surrounded by native Newfoundland plants. At the base of the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial mound, three bronze tablets carry the names of 820 members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, and the Mercantile Marines who gave their lives in the First World War and have no known grave.  The memorial is situated close to the headquarters dugout of the 88th Brigade, the brigade of which the Newfoundland Regiment was a part.

The Tour Guide told the Boys that during the First World War, Newfoundland was a largely rural Dominion of the British Empire with a population of 240,000, and not yet part of Canada. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 led the Government of Newfoundland to recruit a force for service with the British Army. Even though the island had not possessed any formal military organization since 1870, enough men soon volunteered that an entire battalion was formed, and later maintained throughout the war. The regiment trained at various locations in the United Kingdom and increased from an initial contingent of 500 men to full battalion strength of 1,000 men, before being deployed. After a period of acclimatization in Egypt, the regiment was deployed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli peninsula with the 29th British Division in support of the Gallipoli Campaign. With the close of the Gallipoli Campaign the regiment spent a short period recuperating before being transferred to the Western Front in March 1916.  

In 1921, Newfoundland purchased the ground over which the Newfoundland Regiment made its unsuccessful attack during the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Much of the credit for the establishment of the 74-acre memorial site is given to Lieutenant Colonel Tom Nangle, the former Roman Catholic Priest of the regiment. As Director of Graves Registration and Enquiry and Newfoundland's representative on the Imperial War Graves Commission he negotiated with some 250 French landowners for the purchase of the site. He also played a leading role in selecting and developing the sites where the Newfoundland memorials currently stand, as well as supervising the construction of each memorial. The memorials, including that at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial site, were constructed for the Government of Newfoundland between 1924 and 1925.   The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial site was officially opened, and the memorial unveiled, by Field Marshal Earl Haig on 7 June 1925.

Since Newfoundland's confederation with Canada in 1949, the Canadian Government, through the Department of Veterans Affairs, has been responsible for the site's maintenance and care, with that, the very knowledgeable young lady finished a great tour and Mike, Ron, and Bone headed to the next Somme-ber destination, the Theivpal Monument and Somme Museum.

Thievpal, a Monument to the Missing

 Theivpal was a 15 minute drive east of Beaumont-Hamel and is a little French village. Because of its geographical position, Thiepval was to become a significant position during the Battle of the Somme.

In the early months of war, the Germans dominated over the French Army, whose trenches were farther down in the Ancre Valley. Mobile warfare quickly led to static warfare, the front stabilised and the armies started to dig in, creating vast networks of trenches. The Germans reinforced their positions on Thiepval ridge, including underground fortifications and a maze of communication lines.  

The British eventually captured Thiepval on the 27 September 1916 and the Battle of the Somme was called off in November of the same year. The breakthrough had not been possible but the battle had enabled the French to keep a hold on Verdun.

The British Army suffered more than 420,000 casualties (killed, injured, missing, or taken prisoner) and the French lost some 200,000 men during the Battle of the Somme.  

In March 1918, as part of the German Spring Offensive, Thiepval was recaptured by the Germans, but returned to Allied hands in August of the same year. Again, a very strategic place that the Boys were checking out.

The Awe-Inspiring Thievpal Monument on the Thievpal Ridge

Mike, Bone, and Ron, parked the car and were awestruck by the massive Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.  The Thiepval Memorial was unveiled in 1932 and designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who also designed the Cenotaph in London, many of the British War Cemeteries, the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, and the Stone of Remembrance (found in many of the Commonwealth Military Cemeteries). The Thiepval Memorial commemorates more than 72,000 men from the British and South African forces who were reported missing in the Somme before 20 March 1918. The remains of approximately 50% of the Missing were recovered but could not be identified, the remainder have never been recovered. Nearly 90% of the men commemorated on the memorial were killed during the Battle of the Somme; 12,000 were lost on the first day alone.

Measuring over 200 feet in height, the memorial is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world. Its walls are clad in brick and its sixteen piers are faced with Portland stone on which the names of the Missing are engraved. The men commemorated on this memorial come from all social backgrounds and their ages range from 15 to 60 years old with an average age of 25. The memorial and cemetery are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Boys read that they have two ceremonies in remembrance of the men who fought and died during the Battle of the Somme, a ceremony is held at the Thievpal Memorial each year on 1 July. A second ceremony is held on 11 November in commemoration of Armistice Day.  Walking around the Memorial the Boys read about the aspects of the Somme Battle that were fought at Thievpal.

Where the British Tanked"!!!

The Boys lerned that during the Battle of the Somme at Thiepval Ridge was the first large offensive mounted by the Reserve Army of Lieutenant General Hubert Gough and was supposed to benefit from the Fourth Army attack at Morval by starting 24 hours afterwards. Thiepval Ridge was well fortified and the German defenders fought with great determination, while the British co-ordination of infantry and artillery declined after the first day, due to confused fighting in the maze of trenches, dug-outs and shell-craters. The final British objectives were not reached until the Battle of the Ancre Heights (1 October – 11 November). Organizational difficulties and deteriorating weather frustrated Joffre's intention to proceed by vigorous co-ordinated attacks by the Anglo-French armies, which became disjointed and declined in effectiveness during late September, at the same time as a revival occurred in the German defence. The British experimented with new techniques in gas warfare, machine-gun bombardment and tank–infantry co-operation, as the Germans struggled to withstand the preponderance of men and material fielded by the Anglo-French, despite reorganization and substantial reinforcements of troops, artillery and aircraft from Verdun. September became the worst month for casualties for the Germans. Quite honestly, much of the ground the Boys were walking was completely pulverized by both sides during the Somme. 

Thievpal Monument to the Missing

Ron, Mike, and Bone overlooking the French and British graves in the cemetery behind the Thievpal Monument

Mike, Bone, and Ron, parked the car and were awestruck by the massive Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.  The Thiepval Memorial was unveiled in 1932 and designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who also designed the Cenotaph in London, many of the British War Cemeteries, the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, and the Stone of Remembrance (found in many of the Commonwealth Military Cemeteries). The Thiepval Memorial commemorates more than 72,000 men from the British and South African forces who were reported missing in the Somme before 20 March 1918. The remains of approximately 50% of the Missing were recovered but could not be identified, the remainder have never been recovered. Nearly 90% of the men commemorated on the memorial were killed during the Battle of the Somme; 12,000 were lost on the first day alone.

Mike, Ron, asnd Bone noticed that the Monument has been built on the very top of the Thievpal Ridge, making prominent for miles, on the other side is a unique cemetery in that in contains both British and French Troops (who typically have their own cemeteries. It is easy to differentiate in that the French have cross-shaped headstones and the British the more typical slab-shaped stones. All very visceral in portraying the human carnage that occurred on this site. After a half and hour of reviewing and reflecting the Boys moved on to the History Museum in the Thievpal Visitor Center. 

Mike, Ron, and Bone walked into the Museum that is dedicated to the history and remembrance of the battles of the Somme, the Museum is interesting in that it interweaves British, German and French accounts of war in the Somme. One gallery is dedicated to the Battle of the Somme with a 60 metre-long panorama by Joe Sacco that provides a visual account of the the 1st July 1916, the worst day in British military history, and acts like a window opening up onto the battlefield.

At the centre of the layout is a gallery dedicated to the missing soldiers of all nationalities. The portraits, life stories and personal objects of one hundred soldiers are displayed here.  In the last hall, a life-size replica of Guynemer’s fighter plane of August 1916 illustrates the emergence of heroic figures of aviation, and is placed in contrast to the men in their masses who were devoured by the violence of war. Multimedia displays have also been included throughout the museum. This innovative museum has taken a unique and moving approach to the war with ‘life-size’ displays, the use of new multimedia displays and a display pit combining museum pieces with archaeological finds. It provides visitors with an experience that is both charged with emotion and rich in information. Spending another hour on the Museum, the Boys had one more Somme stop before the trip went into the ditch,,,, the Lochnager Crater!!! 

The low point of the Day: the Lochnagar Crater!

As te day began to wind down, so did the Boys, to the Lochnager Crater!!!  The Lochnagar Crater was a result of of a tremendous underground explosive charge, secretly planted by the British for the first daya of the Somme. The mine was dug by the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers under a German field fortification known as Schwabenhöhe (Swabian Height) in the front line, south of the village of La Boisselle in the Somme département. The British named the mine after Lochnagar Street in Scotland, the British trench from which the gallery was driven.

The charge at Lochnagar was one of 19 mines that were placed beneath the German lines on the British section of the Somme front, to assist the infantry advance at the start of the battle. The Lochnagar mine was fired at 7:28 a.m. on 1 July 1916 and left a crater 98 ft  deep and 330 ft  wide, which was captured and held by British troops. The attack on either flank was defeated by German small-arms and artillery fire, except on the extreme right flank and just south of La Boisselle, north of the Lochnagar Crater. The crater has been preserved as a memorial and a religious service is held each 1 July.

The Lochnagar mine consisted of two chambers with a shared access tunnel. The shaft was sunk in the communication trench called "Lochnagar Street". After the Black Watch had arrived at La Boissselle at the end of July 1915, many existing Allied fortifications, originally dug by the French, had been given Scotland-related names. The Lochnagar mine probably had the first deep incline shaft, which sloped 1:2–1:3 to a depth of about 95 ft. It was begun 300 ft behind the British front line and 900 ft away from the German front line. Starting from the inclined shaft, about 50 ft below ground, a gallery was driven towards the German lines. For silence, the tunnellers used bayonets with spliced handles and worked barefoot on a floor covered with sandbags. Flints were carefully prised out of the chalk and laid on the floor; if the bayonet was manipulated two-handed, an assistant caught the dislodged material. Spoil was placed in sandbags and passed hand-by-hand, along a row of miners sitting on the floor and stored along the side of the tunnel, later to be used to tamp the charge.

When about 135 ft from the Schwabenhöhe, the tunnel was forked into two branches and the end of each branch was enlarged to form a chamber for the explosives, the chambers being about 60 ft apart and 52 ft deep. When finished, the access tunnel for the Lochnagar mine was 4.5 ft × 2.5 ft and had been excavated at a rate of about 18 inches per day, until about 1,030 ft long, with the galleries beneath the Schwabenhöhe. The mine was loaded with 60,000 lbs of ammonal, divided in two charges of 36,000 lb and 24,000 lb. As the chambers were not big enough to hold all the explosive, the tunnels that branched to form the 'Y' were also filled with ammonal. The longer branch was 60 ft long, the shorter was 40 ft long. The tunnels did not quite reach the German front line but the blast would dislodge enough material to form a 15 ft high rim and bury nearby trenches. The Lochnagar and the Y Sap mines were "overcharged" to ensure that large rims were formed from the disturbed ground. Communication tunnels were also dug for use immediately after the first attack, including a tunnel across no man's land to a point close to the Lochnagar mine, ready to extend to the crater after the detonation as a covered route. Interestlngly, the mines were laid without interference by German miners but as the explosives were placed, German miners could be heard below Lochnagar and above the Y Sap mine. 

The blowing of the Y Sap and Lochnagar mines was witnessed by pilots who were flying over the battlefield to report back on British troop movements. It had been arranged that continuous overlapping patrols would fly throughout the day. 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Lewis' patrol of 3 Squadron was warned against flying too close to La Boisselle, where two mines were due to go up, but would be able to watch from a safe distance. Flying up and down the line in a Morane Parasol, he watched from above Thiepval, almost two miles from La Boisselle, and later described the early morning scene in his book Sagittarius Rising (1936):     We were over Thiepval and turned south to watch the mines. As we sailed down above all, came the final moment. Zero! At Boisselle the earth heaved and flashed, a tremendous and magnificent column rose up into the sky. There was an ear-splitting roar, drowning all the guns, flinging the machine sideways in the repercussing air. The earthly column rose, higher and higher to almost four thousand feet. There it hung, or seemed to hang, for a moment in the air, like a silhouette of some great cypress tree, then fell away in a widening cone of dust and debris. A moment later came the second mine. Again the roar, the upflung machine, the strange gaunt silhouette invading the sky. Then the dust cleared and we saw the two white eyes of the craters. The barrage had lifted to the second-line trenches, the infantry were over the top, the attack had begun.   — Cecil Lewis, whose aircraft was hit by lumps of mud thrown up by the explosion.

Despite their colossal size, the Lochnagar and Y Sap mines failed sufficiently to neutralise the German defences in La Boisselle. The ruined village was meant to fall in 20 minutes but by the end of the first day on the Somme, it had not been taken while the III Corps divisions had suffered more than 11,000 casualties. At Mash Valley, the attackers lost 5,100 men before noon and at Sausage Valley near the crater of the Lochnagar mine, there were over 6,000 casualties, the highest concentration on the battlefield. The 34th Division in III Corps had the greatest amount of casualties of the British divisions engaged on 1 July.

Unlike most World War I site, which are "owned" by the British, Belgians, or French, the Loghnagar Crater is owned by a private citizen, in fact a Brit! Over the years since the Great War attempts to fill it in were resisted and the land was eventually purchased by an Englishman, Richard Dunning to ensure its preservation, after he read The Old Front Line and was inspired to buy a section of the former front line. 

Dunning made more than 200 enquiries about land sales in the 1970s and was sold the crater. The site had been used by cross-country motorbikes and for fly tipping but Dunning erected a memorial cross on the rim of the crater in 1986, using reclaimed timber from a Gateshead church; the cross was struck by lightning shortly after its installation and was repaired with metal banding. The site attracts about 200,000 visitors a year and there is an annual memorial service on 1 July, to commemorate the detonation of the mine and the British, French and German war dead, when poppy petals are scattered into the crater. The Boys visit was brief since who really are not allowed in the  Crater itself, not because of preserving it, (even though that is a good reason!), nope, it is due to still unexploded explosives in the ground!!!

In fact, they have closed the road near the Crater and you have to park away from it due to radar readings of explosive material from the mines still in the ground. Making this the first time Mike, Ron, and Bone tip-toed out of the site!, Carefully getting in their temperamental French Car, the Boys headed east to drive along essentially the Western Front line to a quaint little village just outside of Verdun, positioning the Boys well for the morning.

A bubbly, bucolic drive through Champagne on the way to Verdun!

There really was not an expressway across the country, it was side roads and highways from the Somme and the 2 1/2 hour drive through some of the prettiest country as they drove through Champagne country into the French Province of Alsace, the province that Verdun is in. Mike, Bone, and Ron arrived just outside of Verdun right around 8:00 PM.

Ready to attack Verdun in the Morning!

Steak a Poivre, Salad, and a damn fine Bourdeux!

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