Today’s agenda reads as follows:
DAY 7 – SAT JULY 12, 2014 – ARRAS – AMIENS
Beginning with the Somme 1916 Battles, we visit the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont-Hamel, where the Newfoundland Regiment was virtually wiped out on July 1, 1916. Later in the day, we visit the impressive Franco British Memorial at Thiepval, the Lochnagar Crater at La Boisselle and the Courcelette and Amiens battlefields. In the afternoon, we travel to Peronne and visit the Museum of the Great War and continue to Amiens for our overnight.
It was shortly after 9:00 a.m. that we arrived at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial. Beaumont-Hamel is near the northern end of the forty-five kilometre Somme front attacked by British and French forces on July 1, 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. It was the worse day in the history of the British Army. Casualties on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme totalled 57,470, of which 19,240 were fatal. Within 15 minutes of leaving their trenches, 85% of the Newfoundland Regiment were dead, dying or wounded. Only one British battalion suffered more heavily on that horrific day.
Private F H Cameron, 1st Kings Own Scottish Borderers, saw them die:
“On came the Newfoundlanders, a great body of men, but the fire intensified and they were wiped out in front of my eyes. I cursed the generals for their useless slaughter, they seemed to have no idea what was going on.”
Within the boundaries of the Memorial Site, close to 1,000 men were killed or died on that one fateful day. Of these, around 200-300 still lie beneath the green grass and wild flowers, including many of the 130 or so Newfoundlanders from that fateful advance who have no known grave. So now, as then, it remains a place for respect, for reflection and for pilgrimage.
More details of the Newfoundland Regiment in the Battle of the Somme are available at the Newfoundland and The Great War website, and they are well worth reading.
For Sonya and I, visiting the site was a moving experience, and as was true on Vimy Ridge the previous day, it made us proud of our Canadian heritage. Here one finds the history, the sacrifice, and the atmosphere of what it must have been like here during the war. The site includes a well-preserved battlefield, one of only a few on the entire Western Front. The original trenches have been preserved, and the area is pocketed with shell holes where today sheep graze. A large bronze caribou stands on a rocky outcrop above three bronze memorial tablets near the original Newfoundland forward trenches on 1 July. The tablets contain the names of 814 Newfoundlanders from the Newfoundland Regiment, the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, and the Mercantile Marine who died in service during the First World War and who have no known graves. As at Vimy Ridge, young Canadian guides and an on-site interpretation centre explain the battle and its aftermath.
At the entrance to the park there is a bronze cast with the following words inscribed on it:
Tread softly here! Go reverently and slow!
Yea, let your soul go down upon its knees,
And with bowed head and heart abased strive hard
To grasp the future gain in this sore loss!
For not one foot of this dank sod but drank
Its surfeit of the blood of gallant men.
Who, for their faith, their hope,—for Life and Liberty,
Here made the sacrifice,—here gave their lives.
And gave right willingly—for you and me.
The pictures which follow are from our Somme Battlefields collection. They can also be viewed separately from the Photo Gallery menu above. Click on any image for a full description.