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History Trail - Wars and Conflict

Six Stands in one day: walking the Somme battlefield

Stand 1: Sheffield park

Then

Map of Sheffield Park as it was at the time of the Somme

Now

The site of Sheffield Park today

Source

The extended lines started in excellent order but gradually melted away. There was no wavering or attempting to come back, the men fell in their ranks, mostly before the first hundred yards of No Man's land had been crossed. The magnificent gallery, discipline and determination displayed by all ranks of this North Country division were of no avail against the concentrated fire effect of the enemy's unbroken infantry and artillery, whose barrage has been described as so consistent and severe that the cones of the explosions gave the impression of a thick belt of poplar trees.

Sir James E Edmonds, Military Operations: France and Belgium 1916

Stand 2: Sunken lane west of Beaumont Hamel

Then

Map of Beaumont Hamel as it was at the time of the Somme

Now

Beumont Hamel today

Source

Miraculously, I breathlessly reached the sunken road, practically leaping the last yard or two and diving into its shelter. Picking myself up and looking around, my God, what a sight! The whole of the road was strewn with dead and dying men. Some were talking deliriously, others calling for help and asking for water... Once more we sprang into that fusillade of bullets. In a few moments I must have been alone and quickly decided to drop into a shell-hole... I could look back over no-man's-land towards our trenches. Hundreds of dead lay about and wounded men were trying to crawl back to safety; their heart rending cries for help could be heard above the noise of rifle fire and bursting shells.

Cpl George Ashurst, My Bit

Stand 3: The Thiepval Memorial

Then

Map of Thiepval as it was at the time of the Somme

Now

The Thiepval Memorial today

Source

Major General Maxse paid a handsome tribute to the men of 18th Division, writing that: '...their achievement will bear comparison with any similar fear of arms in this war. The gallantry displayed by all ranks has been handsomely recognised by the award of numerous decorations and medals to the survivors, but I should be doing an injustice to heroic officers and men and incidentally to the 18th Division if I omitted to record in this official report my opinion of what was accomplished by those who fell in action. They did more than their fair share towards the achievement of the success which the survivors alone celebrate.'

Michael Stedman, Battleground Europe: Somme - Thiepval

Stand 4: Lochnagar Crater

Then

Map of Lochnagar as it was at the time of the Somme

Now

Lochnagar Crater today

Source

Lochnagar crater stands on high ground with Sausage Valley to its south, named after the 'sausages' - German observation balloons - above it. To the north was Mash Valley, attacked by 2nd Battalion The Middlesex regiment. Lieutenant Alfred Bundy was with them.

'Went over the top at 7.30 am after what seemed an interminable period of terrible apprehension. Our artillery seemed to increase in intensity and the German guns opened up on No Man's Land. The din was deafening, the fumes choking and visibility limited owing to the dust and clouds caused by exploding shells. It was a veritable inferno.

I was momentarily expecting to be blown to pieces. My platoon continued to advance in good order without many casualties until we had reached nearly half way to the Boche front line. I saw no sign of life there. Suddenly however an appalling rifle and machine-gun fire opened against us and my men commenced to fall. I shouted 'down' but most of those that were still not hit had already taken what cover they could find.'

Malcolm Brown, The Imperial War Museum Book of The Somme

Stand 5: New Zealand Memorial

Then

Map of New Zealand Memorial site as it was at the time of the Somme

Now

New Zealand Memorial

Source

As they looked towards the English the blood froze in their veins as the two mysterious monsters came creeping over the cater fields... They have learned not to fear man, but here was something approaching which the human brain, with tremendous mechanical powers, had fitted out for a devil's trick, a mystery which oppressed and shackled the powers because one could not comprehend it with understanding - a fatality against which one seemed helpless. One stared and stared as if paralysed.

The monster approached slowly, hobbling, moving from side to side, rocking and pitching, but it came nearer. Nothing obstructed it: a supernatural force seemed to drive it onwards. Someone in the trenches cried 'the devil comes' and that word ran down the line like lightning. Suddenly tongues of fire leapt out of the armoured skins of the iron caterpillar, shells whistled over our heads and a terrible concert from a machine gun orchestra filled the air.

German newspaper quoted in The Times 25 September 1916

Stand 6: Newfoundland Memorial, Guedecourt

Then

Map of Guedecourt as it was at the time of the Somme

Now

Map of Guedecourt as it is today

Source

Hand-sketched contemporary map of part of the battlefield at GuedecourtThis map reflects the realities of battle during the latter stages of the Somme fighting. Wrecked tanks are marked because they were invaluable landmarks. Trenches have names for ease of description; battalion and company headquarters as well as dressing stations are marked. Dressing stations treated wounded who had been sent back from their Regimental Aid Post, and they went thence to Casualty Clearing Stations further back.

Advanced Dressing Stations often became cemeteries as soldiers died in them before they could be evacuated. The SOS line just in front of British positions marks the line that guns would be laid on when they were not engaged on other tasks. If the infantry was attacked it would simply need to call, by field telephone or signal rocket, for fire on the SOS. Radios, not in general use in World War One, would have made the co-ordination of artillery fire, and much else, a great deal easier.