Well what an amazing few days that has been?
I was up and at em early on the Sunday morning and managed to thumb a rapid lift from Amiens to Albert.. Albert is the town that sat just behind the Somme front and the road leading from it, out towards Poziers was roughly the axis of the advance for the British and commonwealth forces.
I had a good hour in the museum, which is underground, and runs from under the church in the centre of the town. I was also Immensely happy that, just as I entered, so did a coach load of kids from Nottingham all aged about 13. Those who know me would again attest to how big a fan I am of loud kids running wild.....and this lot were letting rip!!
As they charged merrily about the museum, I starred longingly at the trench knives and spiked clubs on display and checked to see if any of the display cabinets were open...unfortunately (or probably fortunately) they were not. However one of the schoolgirls was looking at a display and as I passed she said to her friend “why didn’t they just say they weren’t going to fight anymore and just go home”.......the innocence, beauty and simplicity of that statemen I found quite moving.
From Albert I walked along the old Roman road to La Boisselle. It was on this road, right infront of the village, where the German & British frontline trenches were just 25 meters apart and this was the point, where 100 years later, I entered the Somme Battlefield and started what was to be an amazing couple of days.
I headed just outside the village to what is known as the ‘Lochnagar Crater’. It was here on the 1st July 1916, at 07:28 that the British detonated an underground mine, beneath the German frontline trenches, to start the battle of the Somme. If you have seen footage of the Somme, you will have seen the pictures of this mine exploding........or so I thought??
As I approached the crater I was met by a woman who had just driven past me and had seen my SSAFA flag. She was leading a multi fath outing from Nottingham (again), who were currently viewing the crater.
After I explained who I was and what I was doing she asked me to speak to the group and tell my story...so I did. This then lead to me having a long chat with a guy who is from the Muslim community in Nottingham and it was just lovely to be in a very sacred place (right on the lip of the crater), and have a deep and meaningful talk about inter community relations and everyone ‘just getting on’.
Once these guys had gone, I was just staring at the crater (which is so big...its mind blowing and terrifying), when I noticed a guy just wandering around, so I said ‘Bonjour”, to which he replied ‘awight mate’. This was Nigel and we had a quick chat during which he told me that this wasn’t the mine you see explode in the film 🎥, that one was called ‘Hawthorne Ridge’ mine and that he was on the Somme to go and do some ‘restoration / access improvement work’, at that very crater. Being a cheeky sod I asked for a lift and so began a truly amazing 48 hours.
After meeting Nigel I then Met Terry, Rick, Colin, Dane, the 3 Paul’s Christien & his wife, Avrill and many more. They were all out to improve access to the Hawthorne Ridge Crater, as part of an association they had all set up. They are all WW1 enthusiasts and each had different skills such as landscaping, builder, archaeologist, explosives and mining and these guys all new their stuff.
To Keep a Long story short I spent the remainder of day 16, all of day 17 and half of 18 with these guys. I have given a small amount of help to their project (which will help give a major piece of history a new lease of life),....But in return I recieved so much.
They were the friendliest bunch you would ever want to meet, they treated me as one of their own, they fed and watered me and I sat in awe as they discussed the Somme battles and the current research that is being undertaken. They never failed to answer any of my novice questions and they gave me an huge insight to the events that happened in that area over 100 years ago, of which many people who visit the place time and again never get to know and see.
Collectivly they are the ‘Hawthorne Ridge Crater Association’. @hawthorneridgeCA
individually they are:-
Nigel = He is the glue behind the project, he keeps all the pieces together, and links the association to the locals, the government and each other. His knowledge of the Some offensive is fantastic, his only downfall is that he is a West Ham fan!
Terry = He took me under his wing and showed me the WHOLE of the Somme area (which is huge). He is a builder, Ex professional Golfer 🏌️♂️thoroughly nice bloke and so enthusiastic. He also listened to my theories and thoughts and was kind enough not to laugh...thanks mate.
Dane.. = He is the Archeologist who oversees the handling of the site, ensuring it is preserved as a grave site (hundreds died instantly when the mine exploded).
Colin = explosives & Mining expert & Somme Guru. This guy knows his onions. He was there to ensure any ordinance found was safely dealt with (on average 2 farmers die each year when WW1 explosives are set off by their ploughs). He found a live shell within 10 minute on day 1, that we had all just walked over! He then Took us all down one of the mine shafts created by the British tunnellers. I cannot tell you what a privilege this was and how very few people get the chance.
Rick = Landscaper. He is the guy who will ensure that the site looks good and blends with the surroundings. So enthusiastic about the Somme after his grandfather served there and a really humble man.
The 3 Paul’s. All out there as volunteers who just gave up their time to help in anyway they could...they had some great banter going on between them.
I will write more about the Somme. It’s a sobering place and it should be seen by all as it would make everyone understand the utter futility of war. The battle started on the first of July and ended in mid November that same year, the overall loss of life equates to 7000 per day for all of that time! PER DAY??!!!
I will finish with a quote from ‘Harry Patch’ who was the last surviving British soldier who served in the war And who died in 2009, aged 111.
”It was legalised murder’.......