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German burials around shell hole, Thiepval
Here we see a collection of German burial markers around the shell holes at Thiepval on the Somme. Many of these burials would have been lost in the heavy fighting in the area.
Many thanks to Pen & Sword for providing us with these pictures, which come from Richard van Emden's The Somme: The Epic Battle in the Soldier's own Words and Photographs
Capture of Schwaben Redoubt
The Capture of Schwaben Redoubt (Schwaben-Feste) was a tactical incident in the Battle of the Somme, 1916 during the First World War. The redoubt was a German strong point 500–600 yd (460–550 m) long and 200 yd (180 m) wide, built in stages since 1915, near the village of Thiepval and overlooking the River Ancre. It formed part of the German defensive system in the Somme sector of the Western Front during the First World War and consisting of a mass of machine-gun emplacements, trenches and dug-outs. The redoubt was defended by the 26th Reserve Division, from Swabia in south-west Germany, which had arrived in the area during the First Battle of Albert in 1914. Troops of the 36th (Ulster) Division captured the redoubt on 1 July 1916, until forced out by German artillery-fire and counter-attacks after dark.
The British kept the area of the redoubt under bombardment until 3 September, when the 49th (West Riding) Division attacked the area from the west, in a morning fog. The 36th (Ulster) Division infantry got across no man's land but were defeated when German artillery and machine gun-fire swept the Irish troops as German infantry counter-attacked from the flanks, using hand grenades. In late September, the British gained a footing in the redoubt during the Battle of Thiepval Ridge (26–28 September). Attack and counter-attack followed until 14 October, when troops of the 39th Division, captured the last German foothold in the redoubt and repulsed German counter-attacks from 15 to 21 October. The site of the redoubt lies between the Thiepval Memorial and the Ulster Tower.
Other emblematic sites of the battlefields
The Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux
Villers-Bretonneux, located on the Amiens-Saint Quentin road, was an important position in the defence of Amiens, only 16 kilometres away. Each year on 25 April, ANZAC Day is commemorated here in remembrance of the Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), who experienced their first baptism of fire on this date during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915.
The Memorials of Cantigny
The Battle of Cantigny was the first American offensive of the First World War it took place on 28 May 1918.
A regiment of the 1 st American Infantry Division (aprox. 4000 men), commanded by Robert Lee Bullard, took the village of Cantigny, which was held until then by General Oskar von Hutier’s 18 th German Army.
This site of remembrance pays testimony to the great Somme offensive of 1916, planned by French Commander-in-Chief Joffre. The objective of the battle was to cut German communications from the North-east.
Soyécourt Wood retains its scars of the 1916 fighting the trenches, shell holes and quarries may be half hidden by trees, but still recall the horrifying fighting.
The village of Faÿ
Completely destroyed by mine warfare in February 1916, Faÿ is the only village of the Somme not to have been rebuilt upon its original emplacement. The present village can be found 100 metres away. A walk now winds through the former village, which has preserved the foundations of several buildings including the church and houses.
Restoring Thiepval – Phase two
The Thiepval Memorial is arguably the grandest piece of architecture we care for at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
The memorial has stood watch over the Somme battlefields for almost 90 years and today it is hard to imagine this landscape without it. Generations of CWGC staff have worked tirelessly to ensure it stands firm against constant bombardment from wind, rain, frost and snow in this exposed location – and now it’s our turn.
We have a massive task ahead. The concrete core of the memorial remains strong, but the outer skin of red bricks that gives it its iconic look and colour is slowly deteriorating and, in places, separating from the concrete core. We need to restore the brick pointing and secure this external brick façade. In order to carryout these works we will need an enormous scaffolding to wrap around the monument, and given the complex shape of the monument, this is in itself a challenge.
Inside, a complex internal drainage system channels rainwater through the memorial and this is now in desperate need of upgrading. Getting in to do that work is easier said than done because behind those commanding arches is a maze of hidden chambers that can only be reached through narrow access hatches and spiral staircases.
Last but not least, we are restoring the Portland stone panels which bear the names of the missing. After years exposed to the weather a few panels are eroded but actually it’s because many are now out of date, with some names needing to be removed and others added. It’s a task that requires diligent historic research, careful design work, and skilled installation to get right.
We are not deterred by these challenges, and we have an amazing team of experts from across the world. Respect is ingrained into everything the CWGC does, and our approach at Thiepval will be to respect the original design and the original materials as much as possible.
This approach takes time, meaning the memorial will be closed for an extended period starting in 2021, but we hope you will understand the need for this vital work. When we are finished the memorial will remain as a physical reminder of the cost of war for future generations.
Discover more about our Thiepval Memorial restoration project
The closure of the memorial will coincide with the launch of a new digital exhibition – In the Shadow of Thiepval – which will be available at the memorial free of charge. The exhibition seeks to reconnect visitors with the history of the landscape that lays in the shadow of the memorial.
While visitors today can’t explore a shell-scarred battlefield, by using their own mobile devices they will have access to historic images, personal stories, soundscapes and interactive overlay maps which tell the story of how Thiepval Ridge was transformed by years of war.
Visitors will be able to watch as Thiepval changes from peaceful farming community, to war torn battlefield, and finally into the place of remembrance and commemoration we know today. They will be able to discover the stories of the men who fought and died to take Thiepval Ridge in 1916, and will be able to search a database of every individual commemorated on the memorial. They will also be able to learn about the memorial itself and find out more about the work being undertaken by the CWGC to preserve Thiepval for generations to come.
Visit the CWGC trailer at the entrance of the memorial for more information about how to log on to the on-site Wifi and view the exhibition.
Painting by Orpen © IWM Art 2377
The Battle of the Somme in 1916 was a watershed for the armies of the British Empire during the First World War. In 141 days of fighting, thousands perished and many would never be recovered or identified. Their final resting places remain unknown.
The CWGC’s Thiepval Memorial is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world. It bears the names of more than 72,000 British and South African servicemen who have no known grave and who died on the Somme battlefields between July 1915 and March 1918
Hull Commercials marching to the Somme © IWM Q 743
Many of those who lost their lives were wartime volunteers, often recruited into ‘Pal’s Battalions’ formed from towns, workplaces or clubs. Others came from across the globe to fight. The scale of the losses had a profound impact on communities across today’s Commonwealth. The names of French villages and woods were seared into the memory of a generation of those who fought and those who lost loved ones: Delville Wood, Pozieres, Beaumont-Hamel, Mametz, Warlencourt, Ancre, Courcelette, Guillemont and Thiepval.
Design drawings of the memorial
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the Thiepval Memorial is a focal point for commemoration on the Somme. Standing 45 metres high, it takes the form of a series of arches, interlocking at right-angles, rising to a tower. Around the base of each of its sixteen ground-level piers are panels of Portland stone inscribed with names. Construction began in 1929. More than 10 million bricks and 100,000 cubic feet of stone were used at a total cost of £117,000 – the equivalent of £10 million today.
Originally raised in the war-ravaged landscape above the River Ancre, the memorial is now surrounded by mature trees and countryside. Originally known as the ‘Somme Memorial’, it serves the dual purpose of commemorating the missing and honouring the alliance between Britain and France. High on its façade is inscribed, in French, ‘To the French and British Armies, from the grateful British Empire.’
The memorial was unveiled on 1 August 1932. It rained steadily all day but this did not stop hundreds of people attending. Amongst the crowds were many veterans, including several who were employed by the Commission, men who had remaining in France to tend the graves of their fallen comrades.
German soldiers visiting the Memorial 1940s
During the Second World War, Thiepval was occupied by German forces. No damage was done to the memorial, although several curious German soldiers visited and left their mark. The graffiti can still be seen to this day at the top of the tower.
Since its unveiling, the memorial has required constant maintenance. The stone steps leading from the rear of the memorial to the cemetery were built in the 1960s, when there were also other amendments to the walls around the memorial. In the 1950s, and again in the 1970s, significant re-facing and then replacement of the brickwork was required as a result of erosion. In 2015, a major project was announced to perform further conservation work.
At the inauguration ceremony, the Prince of Wales spoke in French and English, declaring the War Graves Commission’s determination to honour the dead by ‘material expression… as enduring as human hands and human art can make it.’ That commitment continues to this day.
A short Guide
If you look at the tarmac in the car park you will notice that it is marked with the continuation of the trenches which go on to form the park.
The first memorial that you will see is that of the 29th Division with whom the Newfoundland Regiment were serving. The red triangle formed the Divisional Insignia.
Immediately afterwards you come out into the open space of ground that formed the British front line trenches and on into no-man’s land.
Whilst most visitors simply home in on the Caribou monument the area to your right was also an important part of the battlefield encompassing the area across which the 1st Bn Essex Regiment was
trying to advance.
Immediately to your left and raised on a mound is the Caribou Monument to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
The Memorial to the Missing
Around the base of the monument (one of five on the Western Front) is the Newfoundland Memorial to the Missing.
The danger tree out in no-man’s land
The three tablets of bronze carry the names of over 800 members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve and the Mercantile Marine, who gave their lives in the First World War and who have no known grave.
Walk up the spiral pathway to the top of the monument and look down and to the right of the park.
In the distance you will see a small cemetery. This is the Y Ravine Cemetery and the target of the Newfoundlanders that morning.
To the left and in the distance you will be able to see the Monument to the 51st (Highland) Division who would take Beaumont-Hamel in the very last days of the Somme in November 1916.
The space in between these points and the Caribou was no-man’s land in 1916 yet many of the casualties suffered by the Newfoundland Regiment had occurred by the time they reached this point having already been exposed to withering fire from the rear trenches back the car park.
Walking across the park
The ground remains as cratered today as it was in 1918 and the iron pickets for the barbed wire still remain. The wire itself was removed because of injuries caused to the grazing sheep.
Don’t forget that the Regiment had in fact started from trenches situated out near the main road (They are marked out in the car park) and that the advancing Newfoundlanders got out and walked over the top of the trenches.
From here follow the panels and enter the British trenches. They have been softened by the passing of the years but it is still easy to imagine the moment the whistles started to blow and as you are about to do the soldiers exited the trenches and started to cross no-man’s land.
It is also the moment to remember that the Newfoundlanders were in the second wave, the first of which had already been shattered by the German machine guns.
The German trenches are already clearly visible, and for us, only about a four minute walk away. Considering that as they waded across the shell torn ground the soldiers were carrying in excess of 25 kg of equipment, the crossing — in the face of a hail of bullets — would have taken far longer.
Half way across are the remains of the petrified Danger Tree. This was a highly visible landmark for the German artillery and as the remnants of the British reached it they were met with a hail of shells.
A few more minutes walking brings you to the Y Ravine Cemetery and the resting place of so many of the Newfoundlanders from that July morning.
Just behind the cemetery is the ravine which was being used by the Germans. This can no longer be entered but you can look down into it from further along to the rear of the Highlander’s Memorial.
The cemetery is also the burial ground for many of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division who fought in the area in November 1916.
The Three Cemeteries
Further along to your left you come to the Memorial to the 51st (Highland) Division who finally took the area on 13 November 1916 in the fifth phase of the Battle of the Somme.
There is also another small cemetery called the Hunters Cemetery. Unusually round it is sited on a former shell hole. Nobody seems to know the origin of its name.
Finally you reach part of the German front line and the Y Ravine.
Look out for the wooden Celtic Cross which is also a memorial to the men of the 51st (Highland) Division.
If you walk around and to the right you will come to the rear gate and a track down to Beaumont-Hamel. From here you can get some good views into Y Ravine.
As you now walk back towards the park entrance through the wooded glade you will see Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No 2 and through the trees the smaller cemetery of Hawthorn Ridge No 1. Just to the right is an outcrop of trees which marks the site of the Hawthorn mine.
Looking across the battlefield from the Caribou
On the 1st July 2006 the Regiment returned to Beaumont-Hamel to take part in the 90th Anniversary Commemorations.
The Canadian victory at Courcelette earlier in September pushed the Corps up several hundred metres to new lines just after the village. Several weeks later, as part of Haig’s bite and hold plan, the 1 st and 2 nd Divisions would be jumping off from the new Canadian lines to take Thiepval Ridge, some 1 000 metres north west of their current position. The divisions would be covering fully half of the 6 000 yards of front planned for the attack, and would be advancing in broad daylight towards the Germans’ elevated position on top of the ridge.
After a three day bombardment, the 1 st and 2 nd Divisions attacked at 12h35 on 26 September. Like most of the Somme attacks there was little room to manoeuvre or conceal preparations, so the divisions were caught out almost immediately under the German counter bombardment. The Canadian bombardment was able to keep the frontline trenches from functioning, but could not knock out the guns further back, which rained shells onto the battalions trying to cross the open ground to their objectives. Both divisions successfully moved across No Mans Land, though at high loss of life, and crashed into the trenches opposite, over running most over the course of a 3 hour struggle. As with Courcelette, the problem was less capturing a trench than holding the trench, and the battalions holding parts of Hessian, Kenora and the Zollern Graben struggled to hold them against multiple counter attacks.
By the end of the day, the trench systems at the ridge where still not fully captured and the British commander of the operation, Hubert Gough, called the attack off for the night, planned to begin again in the morning. However, the German regiments pulled out during the night, consolidating in the fortified Regina Trench system at the top of the ridge. Some effort was made to probe Regina trench, and the Canadian Divisions continued to skirmish around Kenora trench, but the large scale battle for Thiepval was over for the time being. Canadian losses for the day were extremely heavy, total Allied losses for Thiepval were over 12 000.
After their use at Courcelette, Thiepval was the second site of employment for the new British Mark I tanks. The Canadian divisions were given the use of the Corps two remaining workable tanks for the battle, one of which was a casualty of the mechanical problems that continued to plague them, and the other of which was knocked out by a direct hit from a German shell. As with Courcelette, the small scale of their usage, problems with co-ordination and mechanical failure prevented the tanks from being effective.
Lt. Charles Edward Reynolds, DSO & MC 29 th Battalion –Reynolds received the DSO for an attack against German positions that were firing on the 29 th Battalion’s new position, one of the only objectives reached during the first minutes of Thiepval. Along with Sergeant W.A. Tennant, Reynolds led the attack, killing two German officers, and the strong point was taken. Tennant and Reynolds were the only survivors of the party.
Burial of Major Edward Lewin Knight, commander of the Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery (Canadian Machine Gun Corps). Knight was killed on 26 September 1916. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada. | Colourized for the first time ever by Canadian Colour. ]
Class 6 History Chapter 5 What Books and Burials Tell Us InText Questions and Answers
Do you notice any similarities between Intro-European languages?
Indo-European language has a group of languages. Soi de Indian languages are Assamese, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmiri. Many European languages such as English, German, French, Spanish, etc. belong to this family. They have similar words Mata (Sanskrit) me. (Hindi mother (English)
List the languages you have heard about and try’ and identify the families to which they belong.
The languages used in the sub-continent are :
- Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam belong to the Dravidian family.
- Assamese, Manipuri belong to the Tibeto Butman family.
- Marathi, Oriya Santhali Austro – Asiatic family
Name the two rivers that were worshipped as goddesses and find them on the map.
The two rivers worshipped as goddesses are Beas and Sutlej.
Do you think chariots were also important? Give reasons for your answer. Read the verses and find out what are the modes? transport that is mentioned.
Chariots were important because they were the main means of transport. The other means of transport were carts.
Look at Map 1 (Page 2 of the textbook) and list 5 rivers not mentioned in the Rigveda.
The rivers which were no mentions in the Rigveda are :
Read the previous section in the textbook and see whether you can find out what the rajas did
The rajas did not have capital cities, palaces, or armies, nor did they collect taxes. Generally, the sons did not automatically succeed fathers as rajas. The assemblies chose leaders who were often brave and skillful warriors.
Do any of the names like ‘Jana’ and ‘Vish’ sound familiar.
The word ‘Jana’ is familiar, which was used to describe people or the community as a whole. It is still used in Hindi and other languages.
There are several things that people did to make megaliths. The list is given in the textbook on page 48. Try and arrange them in the correct order.
- Digging pits in the earth.
- Find suitable stones
- Breaking boulders
- Shaping stones
- Burying the dead
- Placing stones in position
Was iron used in the Harappan cities?
The archaeologist has not found any evidence which can show that the lion was used in the Harappan cities.
Do you think this was the body of a chief? Give reasons for your answer.
Most probably this was the body of a chief because he had a different type of burial from file rest of the people. He was found buried in a large, four-legged clay jar in the courtyard of a five-roomed house (one of the largest houses at the site) in the center of the settlement.
This house also had a granary. The body had a cross-legged position. The other was buried in the ground, laid out straight, with file head towards the north.
How do you think Charak found out about the human body in such great detail.
Charak mentions in his book Charak Samhita that the human body has 360 bones. Charak arrived at this figure by counting the teeth, joints, and cartilage. He may have made a detailed study of the skeletal remains of the human body. He may have taken bony structure from the burial places (maybe of the poor people).
Use this evidence to list the possible occupations of the people at Inamgaon.
Archaeologists have found seeds of wheat, barley, rice, pulses, millets, peas, and sesame. Bones of a number of animals, many bearing cut marks that show that they have been used as food have also been found. They include cattle, buffalo, goat, sheep, dog, horse ass, pig, sambhar, Antelope hare, and mongoose, besides birds, crocodiles, turtles, crab, and fish.
There is evidence that fruits such as ber, amla, Jamun dates, and varieties of berries were collected. From this, we can conclude that the main occupation of the people.
List one difference between the raja of the Rigveda and these kings.
The “Raja” of the Rigveda did not live in palaces. They did not have capital, cities, and armies, as the Chinese kings of the same time.
Imagine you live in Inamgaon 3000 years ago and the chief has died last night. Today your parents are preparing for the burial. Describe the scene, including how food is being prepared for the funeral. What do you think would be offered?
The chief had died last night. The whole community had gathered near Iris’s house to pay their last homage. Maybe they are wearing white-colored clothes. In the fields outside people had collected things needed for the burial. The fire is lighted and some people are cooking food.
Maybe the rice is being cooked along with vegetables in the mud pot or they may be cooking that food which was relished by the chief. The people may be chanting the holy prayers, otherwise, there was silence all around.
Class 6 History Chapter 5 What Books and Burials Tell Us Exercise Questions and Answers
Match the columns:
|Chariots||Used in battles|
Complete the sentences:
- Slaves were used for ……….
- Megaliths are found in ……….
- Stone circles or boulders on the surface were used to ……….
- Port-holes were used for …………
- People at Inamgaon ate ………..
- Slaves were used for various kinds of work.
- Megaliths are found in Deccan in the north, east, and Kashmir.
- Stone circles or boulders on the surface were used to cover the burial places.
- Port-holes were used for entering the burial places.
- People at Inamgaon ate fruits, cereals, and meat.
In what ways are the books we read today different from the Rigveda?
The most important point of difference between the Rigveda and the modem books is that today books are written and read. The Vedas, instead, were memorized by students, and later passed on to the later generations by speaking, listening and then memorizing.
What kind of evidence from burials do archaeologists use to find out whether there were social differences amongst those who were buried?
Archaeologists have found burial places that help them to reconstruct the past and tell about society. At Brahmagiri, the archaeologists have found one skeleton buried with 33 gold beads, 2 stone beads, 4 copper bangles, and one conch shell. Other skeletons have only a few pots.
These finals suggest that there was some difference in status amongst the people who were buried. Some were rich, others poor, some chiefs other followers.
In what ways do you think that the life of the raja was different from that of a-Dasa or Dasi?
The life of a raja was quite different from that of a dasa/dasi:
- Raja participated in religious rites. Took part in wars, whereas dasas were not allowed to do so.
- Rajas had no palaces and collected no taxes but they were free whereas dasas were treated as the property of the owners.
Find out whether your school library has a collection of books on religion, and list the names of five books from this collection.
The live books on religion are
- Gum Granth Sahib – Sikhs
- Zoroastrianism – Zend-Ei-Avesta
- Islam – Quran
- Christians – Bible
- Judaism – Old Testament
Write down a short poem or song that you have memorized. Did you hear or read the poem or song? How did you learn it by heart?
We heard the poem and learned it by heart with the help of a teacher.
Write down a short poem or song that you have memories of. Did you hear or Racow the poem or song? How did you learn it by heart?
In the Rig-Veda, people were described in terms of the work they did and the language they spoke. In the table below fill the names f six people you know, three men and three women. For each of them, mention the work they do and the language they speak Would you like to add anything else to the description.
German burials around shell hole, Thiepval - History
As we entered the month of July 2016, our memories went back to the Battle of the Somme which began 100 years earlier on the 1st July 1916. In the space of four and a half months about 500,000 British and Empire soldiers were killed, the greatest loss of life in a single campaign in the entire history of the British Army.
Some of us older Chipstead residents will remember Reg Emmett, of Toby Cottage, Starrock Lane, but may not have heard of his experiences in the later stages of this battle. Reg went “over the top” on the 26 th September 1916 at Thiepval, near the centre of the Somme deployment.
Reg was born in 1895, and joined up as a private soldier in 1915, age 20, in the 11th Royal Fusiliers. After training in Essex and Scotland, he was sent to France, where he was subjected to tough battle training at the "Bull Ring" in Etables. He was then sent to the front, where he was involved with support work, until in August he was told that his unit, D Company, 11th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, 54th Brigade, 18th Division was to lead the assault on Thiepval and special training followed.
Reg Emmett, aged 20, enlists into the British Army
They were told how tough it would be as the defendants were a crack German Unit, the 180th Regiment of Wurtenbergers, who had been there since 1914 and had beaten off all previous attacks. This is Reg’s personal account of the battle on the 26 th September 1916, at Thiepval:
In September 1916 I was serving on the Somme as a private in D Company of the 11th (Service)Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (54th Brigade, 18 th Division) that, together with the rest of the Division, had been withdrawn from the line in mid-August for a period of intensive special training in preparation for the forthcoming assault on Thiepval.
Total British Expeditionary Force deployment in June 1916. Reg is part of the British 4 th army in the south, adjacent to the French 6 th army
Infantry attack plan by the 4th army in the Somme area, 1st July 1916. Reg is deployed to attack Theipval in the centre of the campaign, as part of the 11th Battalion,18th Division of the Royal Fusiliers
This important strong point on rising ground commanded a wide area of the battlefield and had withstood all previous attacks. It had been defended throughout the battle by the 18Oth Regiment of Wurtembergers (26th Reserve Division) who were reputed to be so sure of their strength that they had refused to be relieved and would defend their posts until the end.
Reg’s advance with the Royal Fusiliers, shown highlighted in blue. The Royal Fusiliers are on the left flank, advancing with the Essex, Suffolk and Middlesex.
We were addressed by officers who told us that our artillery strength was greater than hadever before been used and this would blast the German trenches before we got there. There would be a creeping barrage of shell fire going before us and we were to follow this closely so that the Germans would not have time to get up out of their dug-outs and man their machine-guns before we were on them.
We were also to have the assistance of tanks which would blast a way through for us, but those who had been in action with tanks before knew enough to keep away from them: the Germans concentrated their fire on them and the ricochets were dangerous.
HMLS “Crème de Menthe”, ditched just north of Thiepval Chateau having lost part of its rear steering mechanism. This tank was not recovered and lay there throughout subsequent operations in the area, being used as an oil lamp signalling station and shelter
These preparations built up a great feeling of tension which was not lessened when one daywe were marched out to a piece of spare ground and formed up in a hollow square with our officers. The Adjutant then arrived and stood to attention and with much ceremony he read from Divisional Orders:
“On the -- day of --- 1916, Private --- of the --- Regiment was tried by Court Martial and found guilty of Desertion in the face of the enemy.He was sentenced to death and the sentence was duly carried out on the --- day of --- 1916."
The officers then took charge and marched us back to our billets. The effect of this announcement was mixed - some were just sorry for the poor devil. Others, myself included, were inclined to doubt if it really happened and thought it was put on just to frighten us. Afterwards I actually met a man who said he had been one of just such a firing party at the Base, so maybe it was true.
But still the preparations for the great day had not finished for we were marched out onceagain and lined up in battle order, The Divisional Commander, Major-General F.I, Maxse, drove in and addressed us from the back of his staff car:
"The 180th Regiment of Wurtembergers have withstood attacks on Thiepvalfor two years. but the 18th Divisionwill take it tomorrow.”
We did not think much of this and there were mutterings: "All very well for you, you old so-and-so", etc.
That night, stretched out on the floor with my head on a sack of bombs. I joined in singing one of our favourite songs:
I don't want to go in the trenches no more,
Jack Johnsons and whizz-bangs they whistle and roar,
Where the Alleymans can't get at me.
The next day we moved up to the front line under the deafening roar of our artillery pounding the German lines. For this attack our packs and greatcoats were left behind and our haversacks, which were marked with yellow strips, were to be worn on our backs so that our planes could see how far the advance had gone and could report to HQ. There had been a special issue of ammunition and bombs and I went into action carrying live Mills bombs in a small canvas sack which I carried over my right shoulder resting on top of my haversack, Not the sort of parcel one would wish to have with machine-gun bullets flying about!
We were given a final rum ration supposed to go into the water bottle but in this instance mostly drunk at once in case we never had another chance: while for some this was to be the first time "over the top" we had no illusion - we had seen too much of it before.
Zero Hour was at l2.35pm, 26th September. The officers compared watches and gave the order to advance. So we climbed out of our trenches and all hell was let loose. Shells crashed over and around us, machine-guns chattered as their fire swept to and fro across our path as we stumbled forward through no-man's-land, doubled over in the faint hope of dodging the bullets.
We had been told not to bunch together as that would be an easy target, so from the first eachman was on his own
Here and there were men crumpled up in a shell hole, or writhing in agony tangled up in barbed wire, many dead. The ground was up hill and we did not have far to go to reach the German front line that had been smashed by our artillery fire: and where we found a few Germans. We shot anything that moved and dragged ourselves out over the parados and on to the next trench.
We had been told to make for the ruin of the Chateau and dazed and exhausted as I was I dragged myself to a little hill where there was a pile of stones - all that was left of the Chateau I supposed. Here the German machine-gun fire became fiercer than ever, just sweeping above the ground. I threw myself into a shell hole and seizing my chance as the bullets whistled over my head I slid from shell hole to shell hole into a third German trench where some of our boys were held up.
The Chateau at Thiepval as it was before war visited the area in 1914
The heap of rubble that was once the Chateau at Thiepval, in September 1916
Hand to hand fighting followed, the Germans contesting every yard. Two of our Officers were killed and another wounded. Eventually, the arrival of a Lewis gun enabled us to clear the trench. This allowed us to get on with the special job our company had been given: "mopping up" the German dug-outs, making sure there were no live Germans in them.
An officer allotted each of us a number of dug-outs to clear. These dug-outs had been well built - very different from our scratched out holes - real engineering jobs and many were intact, not touched by our shelling . They were 20 to 30 feet deep and it was a perilous job tackling them. I started by shouting down them, telling any Germans left to come up. If there was no response I fired a few shots and then threw down a Mills bomb.
We got quite a few - some came holding their hands up and shouting "Kamerad", others held up photographs of their wives and children. We had to be very quick on them for some still had a bit of fight in them . One dug-out in particular contained a large number of Germans with a couple of machine-guns and since they could not be got out the place was set on fire. Several were killed as they came out, the others died in the fire.
The prisoners were sent back down the line in the charge of a corporal and escort, but many got shot on the way down. The escorts told me later that many of our boys were mad with what they had gone through and the strain of it all and just shot at anything in a German uniform.
It was getting dark now and although the firing seemed to have moved on we were warned that there would probably be a German counter attack so we started to get the trench ready to resist, building up the parados into a parapet facing the enemy. This meant heaving the German dead over the top - a gruesome job which covered us with blood. This done we waited through the night - some explored the dug-outs that were found to be well stocked with drink and cigars and came up wearing German helmets. Those who had them divided up their rations and tried to get a little sleep through sheer exhaustion.
The counter attack never came and next morning we were relieved. So we drifted back in small parties to find a small group had set up on the road with dixies of hot soup. We asked after our friends, who had got a blighty one, who had become a land-owner? Then the Official Photographer came along and for the benefit of those at home. We had to put on a cheerfulness which we were far from feeling.
But we had done it! Thiepval had been captured!
Triumphant soldiers of the 11th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, after the capture of Thiepval. Reg is ringed, back row, centre
The following are extracts from the Official Notes and Orders of Battle at Thiepval on 26 th September, 1916. When set against Reg’s personal account, they make poignant reading:
Prior to the attack the Corps artillery paid "special attention to the demoralization and isolation of the enemy's strongholds, Zolern Redoubt, Stuff Redoubt, Theipval and Schwaben". The 18th Divisional artillery had been attached to Ist Canadian Corps, so the 25th and 49th Divisional artilleries were allotted to cover the 18th Divisional attack.
Care was taken to avoid destroying certain hostile trenches which we were determined to occupy and consolidate and some specified communication trenches in the German lines were spared for our own use.
The barrage 'lifts' were to move at the rate of 100 yards in 3 minutes at the start, increasing the pace to 100 yards in 2 minutes when the shelled area was passed .
Four tanks of C Company were employed with the 18th Division on 26th September. Two were assigned to the assault on the Chateau: one became ditched early on and took no part in the action, while the others went on to assist greatly in the fight for the Chateau ruins before being ditched.
Of the 346 officers, other ranks and others who suffered death by sentence of Courts-Martial during the Great War 322 were executed in France and Belgium . One soldier is known to have been executed on 22nd September 1916.
During the period Battalion was at Raincheval refitting was carried out by the Quartermaster. All deficiencies in wire cutting equipment, etc, being made up. Yellow distinction patches were sewn on all haversacks and stencilled with the letter of Company or Headquarters. Smoke helmets inspected and deficiencies made up and Iron Rations completed.
Every man (with the exception of Specialists) will carry: -
Rifle and equipment (less pack).
1 Bandolier in addition to his equipment ammunition (170 rounds in all ) .
Note: The haversack will be carried on the back.
Heavy shrapnel fire was to give the signal for the first wave of infantry to leave its trenches and advance straight for the main German defences south of THIEPVAL at a slow walk. The distances across No Man's Land averaged 250 yards.
770 guns and mortars would be used in the bombardment. The troops were urged to keep close up to the barrage: “Keep within 30 yards of your barrage . There you will be safe and can fight."
Bosch front line [i .e. working south to north] fighting every yard. They found the Bosches waiting for them in the trench the whole way. The Lewis Guns were pushed up and did useful work shooting along the trench, but the teams suffered a number of casualties. In the meantime the Middlesex had been checked on the right by an intense fire from the CHATEAU but the timely arrival of a TANK enabled them to get on.
' 0' Company cleared altogether 25 dug-outs in the front line and in many of them Germans showed fight. In one of them in particular there was a large number of the enemy with two machine guns and as they could not be got out peaceably the place was set on fire. Several are believed to have perished in the flames and 11 men were killed as they came out an additional 14 who were only wounded were sent to the rear. In addition to the prisoners mentioned above another 40 men were captured and sent back .
One specially meritorious bit of work may be mentioned - about half an hour before ' Zero ' Lieut Sulman was given a copy of a German map which showed the position of the telephone headquarters . He showed it to his men and told them to do their best to find the place and put the operators out of commission . L/Cpl Ruddy and four men nosed about until they found the dugout – quite a palatial place, with a magnificent installation. They captured over 20 men inside and cut all the wires.
Prisoners of War. All prisoners will, as far as possible, be handed over to the 11th Royal Fusiliers. Where this is not possible, Battalions capturing prisoners will conduct them to the Divisional Cage. During the period 26th September to 1st October 1916 the 18th Division captured 8 officers and 839 other ranks.
On 26th and 27th September the 11th Royal Fusiliers lost 3 officers killed, 7 officers wounded, and 49 other ranks killed, 171 wounded and 5I missing.
Reg continued on with several less dangerous operations, before being sent home where he was commissioned. He became involved in training new recruits, before he was retired on medical grounds for fainting on parade!
Reg went on to become a very successful banker and family man before he retired in 1965 to Chipstead. He always read the lesson on Remembrance Sunday in St. Margaret’s Church.
Reg was prominent member of the” Western Front Association” and in August 1988, Rupert Courtenay-Evans arranged to join a party and go and revisit his old battle fields, with Rupert’s two teenage sons. This was a fascinating experience for all, especially as Reg played us a tape and sang along with "I want to go Home”.
Reg returns to France, 1988
Thiepval memorial to the 73,000 British and South African troops, killed on the Somme, with no known graves. Reg is in the foreground aged 94
Reg laying a wreath in memory of his fallen comrades at the Thiepval Memorial in 1988
Reg died on the 14 th of May 1991 aged 96, a year or two after his beloved wife Jean, to whom he had been married for over 60 years.
"Truly a grand old man" as the Rev. John Wates, then curate at St. Margaret’s Church, said at his funeral.
World War One Battlefields
This page covers Vimy Ridge itself the memorial, the tunnels, cemeteries and other sites within the preserved battlefield area. Vimy Ridge is located about 5 miles north of Arras, near Lens, and is conveniently en route from the Channel ports if you are traveling to the Somme. The Park is well signposted.
There are also many other sites of interest, many particularly relevant to Canadians, in the villages and area around Vimy Ridge. A separate page covers the area around Vimy, and a really good guidebook covering the sights on and around Vimy Ridge, plus other areas, is the Holt’s Battlefield Guide to the Western Front: North.
The attack at Vimy Ridge which was undertaken by the Canadian Corps (of the First Army) on Easter Monday, the 9th of April, 1917, is often seen as the first unequivocal success gained by the Allied (in this case Canadian) forces during the course of trench warfare. The Germans had held the heights at Vimy Ridge since the trench lines settled in late 1914, and the French (who then held this part of the line) had failed in attempts to take it in May and September of 1915. The sector was taken over by the British early in 1916.
The Canadians attack at Vimy Ridge. Image from Library and Archives Canada
The attack at Vimy was part of an offensive mounted primarily to draw the German’s attention from a major French offensive on the Aisne, which was launched a week after Vimy on the 16th of April, 1917. However, the French attack was not the major breakthrough that had been hoped for by their Commander, Nivelle.
The Canadian Corps in April 1917 was commanded by General Julian Byng, who later rose to command the Third Army. After the War in 1919 he received a peerage, as the first Viscount of Vimy and Thorpe-le-Soken. Later he was Governor General of Canada from 1921 to 1926.
Like Messines, the prior planning for the assault was extremely thorough, leaving little to chance, and included the use of tunnels to bring attacking troops up to the front lines with less risk to them and less warning for the Germans. Air superiority was also an important factor, although achieved at considerable cost – the number of aircraft lost led to the month being known as ‘Bloody April’ by the Royal Flying Corps. The air offensive began on the 4th of April, timed to coincide with a massive artillery bombardment, although this was hindered by poor weather. Over the five days of the 4th to the 8th of April, the RFC lost 75 aircraft and 105 men – 19 killed, 13 wounded and 73 reported missing.
Canadian graves at Vimy. Image from Library and Archives Canada
The weather on the day of the attack (which was carried out at 5.30 a.m.) was poor, with snow and rainstorms, but the attack was a great success, not only in gaining for the Allies the commanding position on the heights – and you only have to stand here to appreciate what that meant – but also in drawing German reserves away from the planned French offensive on the Aisne. In recognition of the Canadian achievements here, April the 9th was in 2003 declared a national Day of Remembrance in Canada to mark the anniversary of the battle.
Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial Site
Vimy Ridge is now owned by the Canadian Government, and the site is maintained as a memorial to the Canadian Forces who fought in the Great War. There are two main areas which are most visited – the site of the Memorial, and the area of preserved trenches. There are separate parking areas near both, although it is only about a 15 minute walk between the two.
The Vimy Ridge Memorial
The car park nearest the memorial is located next to a memorial to the Morrocan Division. From here, a path framed by a French and a Canadian flag leads to the memorial itself. An information plaque is located here too. Once you reach the memorial, its scale can be appreciated. Standing by the memorial itself one can see for miles across the plains, past the slag heaps of Lens, including the twin slagheaps of the Double Crassier (see photo below). These are now larger than they were during the War, but driving in this region of France many similar smaller slagheaps can be seen – they are a feature of this area.
The Vimy Ridge Memorial is a stunning piece of architecture, dominating the landscape for miles around. It was opened in 1936 and a major restoration programme took place in 2006. The memorial is in the form of two large pylons, and is carved from limestone, which stands out as almost white, especially in bright sunlight. There are 20 figures sculpted as part of the memorial, appearing on the sides and at the top of each of the pylons, and also there are figures around the base. One of the most striking is the weeping woman who looks out from the edge of the base, towards the double crassier.
It’s possible to walk down behind the memorial on the opposite side from the approach path, and appreciate it from the other side too in fact this is a very impressive view as the land slopes away from the memorial on this side.
From the memorial it is a very short drive (well-signposted), or a 10 minute walk to a new Visitors Centre, which opened in April 2017. There are also toilets here (toilets are also located not far from the memorial to the right hand side from the car park).
The Visitor Centre is a low white building, and there is a circular map of the Western Front set into the ground by the path leading to the Centre. Inside are displays of various artefacts to the left hand side, and in cases in the centre of the room, as well as information on the memorial itself. There are also vending machines for hot and cold drinks, and also a water fountain.
As at the Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme, ground in the memorial park has been left undisturbed, and there are trenches and shellholes clearly visible in the grass. In one area, the trench outlines have been made more permanent by the addition of concrete “sandbags”, and you can walk along these trenches, which are deeper than those at Beaumont Hamel or Sanctuary Wood.
Recently, a new centre has been opened next to these preserved trenches, and there is additional car parking here too.
There are also nominal firesteps, and because this high land had such value, the trench lines were close together here. You can stand in either the German or the Canadian trenches, and see how close the enemy trenches were in this sector from the infantry soldier’s perspective. In this example below, the enemy lines were just before the trees (if you enlarge this image by clicking it, there is a green signboard elevated above the far trenches to show the opposing lines). There is not much distance separating them at all.
A mortar bursting on the barbed wire at Vimy. Image from Library and Archives Canada.
The park covers a large area, and as you walk or drive around it you are struck by the devastation caused here – and of course right across the Western Front, although in most places all traces have now vanished. But here at Vimy, although now grass-covered and grazed by sheep, rather than bare earth with twisted metal and the torn remains of soldiers, you can still see the shell craters and trenchlines from 90 years ago.
The war-scarred land at Vimy
One of the most interesting things to see at Vimy is Grange Tunnel. This is a network of underground passages, around which there are guided tours. These are only some of the tunnel networks that riddled this small part of the Western Front. They are astonishing. The tour lasts around 40 minutes, with guides usually being Canadian students. However, although the tour sticks to the main tunnel, you can see running off it many other branches, and the sheer scale of this impressed me hugely. How many miles of tunnels were dug across the Western Front, and still remain under the ground? More information on Grange Tunnel, and on Vimy can be found at the Veteran Affairs Canada website.
Down a small road running to the left as you drive through the park from Neuville St Vaast towards the memorial, are the two war cemeteries which are located within the Memorial Park. This small road ends in a one way loop, with the first cemetery directly ahead.
This is Canadian Cemetery No. 2. There is a Maple Leaf on the cemetery gate although the burials here are not exclusively Canadian. As well as the many known Canadian and British soldiers buried here there are also many unknown burials. In fact, more than two-thirds of those buried in the cemetery are “Known Unto God”, as the inscription on their headstones reads. Although the cemetery was started just after the Canadians took Vimy Ridge in April 1917, the majority of the graves were moved here from elsewhere, over a period of years after the Armistice. They were either moved from smaller burial grounds, isolated graves or else were bodies recovered from the battlefield as the years went by. This explains the high proportion of unknown burials.
Although the setting within the memorial park is fairly peaceful, the noise from the nearby A26 motorway can be clearly heard. The roads throughout the park are also popular with local joggers, and groups or individual runners pass every so often, especially in the mornings.
Rows of headstones are positioned right against the walls of the cemetery at the front and on the sides, some way from the other graves in the cemetery. In many CWGC war cemeteries this layout is because these headstones are actually special memorials to soldiers either known or believed to be buried within that cemetery here however most do mark actual burials (comprising Plots 19, 20 and 22). Special memorial ‘headstones’ form two short double rows on either side of the Great Cross, on the right side of the cemetery. In addition there are some special memorials which are by the wall right behind the Great Cross, with a Duhallow block indicating that these soldiers were killed in action in 1917, and buried then in two other Canadian Cemeteries near here however, their graves were subsequently lost. Generally, this was either as a result of the graves being damaged or destroyed by later shellfire, or else when graves from the smaller cemeteries were moved, the location of some graves could not be found. Private Thomas Leatherbarrow is commemorated by one of these special memorials. He was born in Lancashire in England, but enlisted in Calgary in July 1915. He was aged 30 when he died on the 12th of April 1917, serving with the 50th Battalion, who took part in an attack on the 12th of April in front of Souchez, in what their war diary describes as a ‘blinding snowstorm’. However, the poor visibility meant they suffered relatively few casualties one officer and three men (Leatherbarrow being one of these), although another eight were reported missing.
Duhallow block in front of special memorials at Canadian Cemetery No. 2
On the other side of the short one-way loop is a contrasting cemetery. This is Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery a small, original wartime cemetery. It is also of an interesting design, with the stone wall surrounding it being circular. This may perhaps represent the fact that the burials were really a mass grave in a shell-hole, as can be seen at the Lichfield and Zivy Crater cemeteries near here, and described on the area around Vimy page. Perhaps the burials here were slightly more organised, as there are actually rows of headstones unlike at Lichfield and Zivy craters. There are two longer rows where the headstones are almost touching, and then a shorter row, and finally a single grave by itself comprises row D.
Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery
Despite the fact that all burials here are Canadians, there is no Maple Leaf symbol on the cemetery gate. The plan in the register shows a layout quite different from today. The layout used to include beds of flowering shrubs around the edge of the cemetery, and the plan shows this bed coming right up to the single grave in row D set by itself. This grave (which is that of Private Henry Kirkham) is also shown as right next to the entrance, but it is now set a little way back from this. Today there are no borders of flowering shrubs, apart from very small beds either side of the gate. Two seats are also marked on the plan these too have gone.
A small wooden cross was set in the earth by the grave of Private James Chalmers, remembering that he was originally from Walls, Orkney. His parents address there is given in the register. James Chalmers was an engineer who enlisted in Vancouver in November 1915, and was only 24 when he died. He was with the 54th Canadian Battalion, which was one of those that attacked at 5.30 a.m. on the 9th of April. They encountered strong resistance from a German strongpoint at Old Boot Sap, although they reached their objectives. The battalion on their left however did not, and the men of the 54th suffered from snipers on their unsupported left flank. They thus had to withdraw slightly. James Chalmers was one of around 100 men killed of the 350 who attacked that morning. The majority of those buried here died on the 9th of April 1917, and the remainder died in the few days after that. This cemetery was one of many small cemeteries made at that time, and was originally known as CD1 – these small cemeteries were given such short designations.
Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery
As well as many sites in the area around Vimy, it is only around another 30 miles or so on to the Somme battlefields.
Ralph Barker: The Royal Flying Corps in France
Major & Mrs Holt: Battlefield Guide to the Western Front
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Ieper – Tyne Cot Cemetery
The Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing near Passendale is the largest British military cemetery in the world with 11,954 burials. Along the walls of the inclosing arc are the names of another 35,000 missing for the years 1917-1918. The mud of the Passendale campaign particularly contributed number of missing. The area like most military cemeteries was the site of a battle that took place on October, 4 1917. There are three German bunkers in the cemetery, two are readily visible and the third is under the Cross of Sacrifice that is part of every Commonwealth Cemetery.
Given its size, importance, and proximity there were dozens of British tourists and several tour groups. It was quite a marked contrast from some of the remoter cemeteries that where wrapped in quiet. On the other hand, we did get to eavesdrop on the tour and learn a few things.