A Food & Travel Blog

Remembering the Somme

10/11/2014 | By

Vista from the Thiepval Memorial to the British Missing, Somme battlefields.

Vista from the Thiepval Memorial to the British Missing, Somme battlefields.

On a sunny spring day in Australia it can be difficult to imagine the horrors of the muddy battlefields of the Somme, but that is just what many of us will be doing tomorrow at 11 am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month – Remembrance Day. A day for remembering those who died in war, in particular World War I, it has always had a distinct resonance for my family given my paternal family history in relation to the first World War. My grandfather and all of his brothers were among those who signed up for service (a fact I’ve always found a little surprising given our bog-Irish background). They all survived Gallipoli, they were all seriously gassed later in the war, my great-uncle Patrick was awarded the Military Medal, my grandfather was injured and taken prisoner and my great-uncle Nicholas was killed on the Somme at Pozieres.

The First Australian Division memorial at Pozieres.

The First Australian Division memorial at Pozieres.

Early on a chilly January morning of this year, my husband, son and I caught a train from Paris to Amiens and met up with a guide from Terres de Mémoire for a tour of the region of France which cost our country and my family so dearly. The dismal grey weather and icy winter wind seemed only fitting for what was a fascinating, but deeply sombre day as we visited some of the most significant sites of WW I.

Villers-Bretonneux - view from the top of the tower, back out over the memorial and adjoining now-peaceful farmland.

Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux – view from the top of the tower, back out over the memorial and the adjoining now-peaceful farmland.

One of our first stops was at the dignified and profoundly melancholy Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, solemn and sad in the sleety, cold rain. From there we moved on to a much happier place, the Victoria School in the village of Villers-Bretonneux. Much of the town was destroyed during the war, after which the school was rebuilt with donations from Australia, Australian school children and a large donation from the Victorian Education Department. The gratitude of the locals is tangible, with subtle and not-so-subtle reminders for the students everywhere.

Platypus detail in Victoria School assembly hall, Villers-Bretonneux.

Platypus detail in Victoria School assembly hall, Villers-Bretonneux.

Never Forget Australia

Never Forget Australia

Sign in the play-yard at Victoria School, Villers-Bretonneux.

Sign in the play-yard at Victoria School, Villers-Bretonneux.

After a break for lunch (kangaroo on the menu in the bistro of the very charming town of Albert) we visited the imposing  Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme battlefields. This massive memorial can be seen for miles around and, shockingly, bears 72,194 names of United Kingdom and South African forces, officers and men, who were never found. From there we moved on to one of the battlefields which has been left intact. Newfoundland Memorial Park was purchased by  Newfoundland after the War and was named after Canada’s Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which had provided one battalion of 800 men, almost all of whom perished in the course of one short morning. Few of the bodies were recovered making this place both a museum site and a graveyard.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, the Somme.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, the Somme.

Trenches at Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel, the Somme.

Trenches at Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel, the Somme.

At peace in what was once a bloody battlefield, Newfoundland Memorial Park, the Somme.

At peace in what was once a bloody battlefield, Newfoundland Memorial Park, the Somme.

Watching over the sons of Newfoundland, Newfoundland Memorial Park

Watching over the sons of Newfoundland, Newfoundland Memorial Park

The folks at Terres de Mémoire are thorough and had asked me for the details of my relative who was killed, presumably to make it easier to find great-uncle Nicholas’ grave. I was surprised to find that they had gone much further than that and had researched his service record and his role in the battle at Pozieres. We were taken to what is now a potato field and the exact spot where his body was recovered was pointed out to us. The trenches of the time were maze-like and utterly confusing and occasionally soldiers became lost – it seems that this was the sad and wasteful fate of my uncle. He rests now in the care of France, as close as he will ever get to home – in the Australian section of the Serre Road Number 2 Cemetery.

The field where my great-uncle's body was found.

The field where my great-uncle’s body was found.

Nicholas McInerney - who hasn't been forgotten.

Nicholas McInerney – not forgotten.

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  1. Anne
    10/11/2014

    A fitting tribute to those who were there Amanda (especially your great uncle). Visiting the places where those bloody battles took place must have been an amazing and harrowing experience.

  2. Maureen | Orgasmic Chef
    10/11/2014

    What a moving post, Amanda. I’m so glad you got to see that part of France and I’m thrilled they were so kind to you.

  3. InTolerant Chef
    10/11/2014

    How lovely that you were able to find out more about your uncle and his final resting place. It’s wonderful to see the reverence and respect given to the brave men who gave their livesfor the greater good. My husband would love to do a tour of these amazing places, he’s a history buff and has studied a lot of the battles and information. Both our great grandfathers were at Gallipoli too, thank goodness they made it home xox