The Courcelette Canadian Memorial is about 30 kms northeast of Amiens on the Somme Battlefield. Here on a granite block is the simple inscription:
THE CANADIAN CORPS BORE A VALIANT PART IN FORCING BACK THE GERMANS ON THESE SLOPES DURING THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME, SEPT. 3RD – NOV. 18TH 1916.
When the Canadian Corps moved from the Ypres Salient to the Somme River region in September 1916, its first major action during the Battle of the Somme was at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. Advancing behind a creeping barrage, and aided by armoured tanks for the first time, the initial attack here went well. The memorial to the 11 weeks of bloody fighting that followed is built at the scene of that initial success.
The weeks that followed saw an increasingly unbelievable ordeal of knee-deep mud and violent, murderous enemy resistance. The fighting took remarkable courage and endurance and finally staggered to a halt when the autumn rains turned the battlefield into a bog. By then the Battle of the Somme had cost the Allies 620,000 dead and wounded of which 24,029 were Canadian casualties. The front was moved forward a little more than 10 kilometers or 7 miles by the fighting. Each 2.5 cm or 1 inch forward cost the Allies 1.4 casualties. Yes, the First World War was very much a war of attrition.
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising then that it was just across the road from the memorial that Sonya and I and our group found poppies growing wild along the roadway for the first time. We hadn’t found any in Flanders at all so were glad to finally see some growing here in France. One of our group also found what appeared to be a remnant of the battles fought here in a ditch by the roadside. It was an intact cartridge clip of 5 bullets for a 1916 British Lee Enfield .303 rifle. We’re told that any task which involves turning over earth, such as ploughing, road building, foundation building and so on, still frequently turns up bullet casings, shells or grenades in this area. Even though the fighting ended here nearly 100 years ago, there is still danger in these fields.
It was not far from the Courcelette Memorial to the Lochnagar Crater. Located in the village of La Boisselle, it is the site where one of the first explosions of the Battle of the Somme took place on 1 July 1916. Set off by British forces at 7:28 a.m., the mine which created the Lochnagar Crater was one of the biggest ever detonated at that time and Lochnagar Crater itself is an astounding 100 metres (328 feet) in diameter and 30 metres (98 feet) deep. Despite the successful blowing of the mine and the damage caused to the German strongpoint, the German defenders managed to get into well-placed positions to fire at advancing British soldiers. By 8:00 a.m., half an hour from the start of the infantry attack, many hundreds of the British soldiers were already dead or wounded.
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.