Some weeks ago I promised that I would soon be giving you all details of the road trip. I have to apologise for the delay in getting this posted, but let me now tell you what I have planned. First though, a short history lesson.
This year sees the centenary of the start of the First World War and it seemed a good time to make good on a promise that I made to myself many years ago, to visit the scene of one of the most terrible battles in the infamous history of human conflict; The Somme. This was a battle fought by the armies of the British and French Empires against Germany, it took place between July and November 1916 in the basin of the River Somme in North Eastern France. The battle was the bloodiest in World War One and indeed human history, with more than One Million men wounded or killed. The battle is historically notable for the debut of tanks and the use of air power. On the first day of the battle, 1st July 1916, the British Fourth Army lost 57,470 men alone. Even more sobering is that 72,191 British empire troops who died in the battle have no known grave.
The static trench warfare conditions endured by the soldiers of both sides during the conflict were truly horrific; they lived and died knee-deep in mud and fetid water, the smell of rotting bodies in the air, rats and lice everywhere. The constant threat from artillery shells, poison gas, snipers and of course the ubiquitous machine gun was a way of life on the front line. The rapid development of technology and efficiency in the industrial revolution was turned towards new and terrible weaponry, this truly was an industrial war.
So what has this got to do with motorbike road trips? Well, not much really, except that my two Grandfathers were there and I have promised myself that one day I too would go to The Somme and walk amongst the spirits of their comrades that they left behind, call it my pilgrimage.
Let me tell you a little about those two young men who went off to war nearly a hundred years ago.
William was quite a tall chap fairly heavily built and an engineer, ideally suited to working with the new mechanised track laying tractors that hauled the massive 9.2 inch howitzers of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Charles was also pretty tall, but more slightly built, an accomplished horseman who found himself posted to the Royal Field Artillery pulling 13 pounder guns into action on horseback and who, on one occasion, would have his horse shot dead underneath him as they rode into battle.The amazing thing is that history has shown that they were only about a mile away from each other on the Somme Front line during that terrible battle. Just two ordinary soldiers, yet, like so many others, extraordinary men caught in one of history’s saddest episodes.
The fact that I am here writing this is proof that they both survived. William was later wounded in the head with shrapnel, splinters of which remained embedded in his body as a permanent reminder; whilst Charles was caught in a poison gas attack that left him suffering from poor health for the rest of his life.
On the way to The Somme, I have to call in at Banneville War Cemetery near Caen. It is here that Mrs Dookes Grandfather is buried. Another William who also served with the artillery, he was killed shortly after D-Day in 1944 whilst fighting to liberate France from Nazi occupation, he was just 26 years old. I feel it is only right that I call and pay my respects.
So that’s the outline of the trip. Just for a change Harley and I are having an escort, my oldest mate, “Vifferman” and his ‘Onda VFR. We are catching the ferry to Brittany on Thursday 3rd April and would love you along for the ride. We’ll travel through Normandy on our way to the town of Albert and the Somme. Promise that it won’t all be heavy war stuff, cos those guys fought and died to enable us to enjoy freedom and that’s just what we are gonna do! Catch ya soon.
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, it’ll soon be here.