We rode East out of Albert and within a couple of miles arrived at the small village of La Boiselle. Small is a bit of a misnomer really, the place is little more than a couple of farms a group of houses and a small church. As we rode into the village we noticed to our right an area of ground still pockmarked with shell craters, very thought provoking! To me La Boiselle is hugely significant as it is the first place given in the book where the guns of 94 Siege Battery were located. The entry gives a spot “50 yards West of the ruined church.” Today, the church has been rebuilt and pacing out 50 yards westwards brought us to the village war memorial, how fitting.
It was an amazing feeling to stand there knowing what had been happening nearly 100 years ago.
The local communities have signposted a route around the former battlefields know as “The Remembrance Trail”, it follows many of the most significant actions and locations and seemed the best thing to do. First stop was Lochnagar Crater. 100metres in diameter and 30 metres deep. This is an aerial photo to give you some idea of the scale.;
The Lochnagar mine was an explosive-packed tunnel dug by the Royal Engineer tunnelling companies underneath a German strong point located south of La Boisselle. It was detonated at 7:28 am on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It contained 24 tons of ammonal and at time was the largest ever man made explosion. The sound of the blast was allegedly heard in London. Today it lies as a reminder of the brutal destruction wrought upon the Somme during those dark days.>
From La Boiselle we headed North for only a couple of miles along the Ancre valley. Along the way we passed woods where glimpses of First World War trenches can be seen. We climbed out of the valley towards the hill top village of Thiepval. This was a significant strategic position during the battle, the Germans initially occupied the high ground and built a sophisticated network of defences. On the first day of the battle the area was targeted as one of the principle targets and 100,000, mostly inexperienced men went into action, following a six day artillery barrage. As the troops went over the top of their trenches they were hit by scything machine gun fire. By evening on that first day over 60,000 British Soldiers were casualties, German losses were 10% of this number. The disaster is still known as the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. Thiepval was finally captured on 27th September 1916 and the Battle of The Somme came to a stalemate end in November of the same year.
In total the British Army, including men from all over the then Empire, had suffered 420,000 casualties in that one battle. Of these, 72,205 were declared missing, their bodies were either never found or identified.
At Thiepval stands a memorial to those missing men. It is the largest British War Memorial in the world and contains the name of each of them. >
The men commemorated here come from all social backgrounds, their ages range from 15 to 60, the average being just 25 years.
Adjacent to the memorial are the graves of French and British soldiers who fell attacking Thiepval; many are simply marked marked as ‘Inconnu’ / ‘Unknown’.