Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Somme

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, fought from July 1916 to November 1916, was among the largest battles of the First World War. With more than 1.4 million casualties, it is also one of the bloodiest military operations recorded. The Allied forces attempted to break through the German lines along a 12 mile front north and south of the River Somme in northern France The battle is best remembered for its first day, 1 July 1916, on which the British suffered 67,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead — the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army.
I drove 100 miles to visit the grave of Katy's great uncle, a driver who died of pneumonia a week before the war ended. The telegram arrived on Armistice day. As far as we know out of several family members who served in WWI he is the only one to die here. It was a cold day.
Most of the men buried here were younger than my sons pictured here The graves are mainly of men in their twenties, a few teenagers and the odd older man in his thirties.
Musing on the beautifully kept cemeteries one is impressed by the symmetry of the layout with more order in death than these men had seen in life at war. In the one we visited, British, French and Germans are united in death distinguished only by different headstones. Each cemetery has a memorial stone and a cross. With all graves facing the memorial stone at the east end they look like a church congregation facing the altar. But here it is the congregation who have been sacrificed. All over the countryside there are large and small resting places.
On the cross is a sword. Unfortunately The war to end wars did not put the sword to death. It was resurrected after just 21 years. So I find these cemeteries very impressive, moving yet ironic. With bodies never repatriated, these soldiers enjoy more grandeur at rest than the graves of the families which at home are not usually so well cared for.A few French crosses among the British headstones which here are behind a row of German graves.

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