Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.
I was over in France last month and we headed to the site of the Somme, taking in Thiepval, Beaumont Hamel and other places now entrenched in the history of the first world war.
The first site visited was the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont Hamel, the largest area of the site of the battle that has been preserved. Shell holes remain, trenches clearly visible and most haunting of all, the “Danger Tree”. This petrified tree is all that remains of the many trees that once stood at this site before battle commenced. It became a key objective in the battle.
The Newfoundland Regiment were one of the regiments that went over the top on that first day of the Battle of the Somme. Of the 780 men of this regiment that went over, only 68 were able to report for roll call the next day.
In walking around the “Y-Trench” cemetery within these grounds, I was struck by the number of graves that all bore the date of that fateful first day of fighting, 1st July 1916.
The other telling factor was the number of graves where the bodies were unidentifiable and simply marked as “Known unto God”.
Beyond the cemetery, scars left by shells remained.
This memorial site is one of just two National Historic Sites of Canada that lie outside of Canada, with the main memorial depicting an antler clad caribou, symbol of the regiment.
As much as the memorial was impressive, it was the preserved scars of war, the unmarked graves and the statistics that had the most effect on me. I was humbled.
Let us not forget.
Credit: Information sourced from Wikipedia