You could spend many months walking around The Somme battlefields and still not see it all, but we suggest when you visit the Somme what to see should include the following:
Below ground a new menacing form of warfare was taking place. Special units of miners were digging silently towards the enemy lines and, once they had reached positions under the German trenches, huge amounts of explosives were carried forward and packed into these underground caverns.
The idea was that these mines would be exploded just before the ground attack, so destroying large sections of the German front trenches. The work was difficult and dangerous and many times our miners broke into German tunnels and had fierce hand-to-hand fights with German miners deep underground.
It was decided to recruit experienced miners from British coal mines and, as miners had protected job status because of the importance of coal to the UK war effort, the men were not required to enlist in the normal way. The miners volunteered from collieries across the UK, and many of them would have been classed as too old to enlist. They were quickly whisked away for training and mustered as 179 Tunnelling Company Royal Engineers.
In October 1915, 179 Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers began to sink a series of deep shafts around the front line to try to stop the German miners from approaching it from underneath. The resulting passages, known as the Glory Hole, ran under and around the sleepy village of La Boisselle.
Include the Lochnagar Crater when you Visit The Somme as it is the largest British mine crater on the Western Front. It was one of several huge underground mines exploded on 1st July 1916 just before the British infantry attacked. A charge of 60,000 lbs [26.8 tons] of Ammonal explosive was blown at 7.28am, resulting in a crater 90 feet deep and 300 feet across.
Units of the 34th Division attacked this area and the nearby village of La Boisselle on 1st July. The Division had two Brigades of Pals Battalions, the Tyneside Irish and the Tyneside Scottish and they suffered awful casualties that day. Five Battalions losing over 500 men each, and the whole Division losing 6,380 killed and wounded.
Lochnager Crater, named after the trench from where the main tunnel started, is now owned by Englishman Richard Dunning, who saved it from being filled in 1978. Each year on 1st July a ceremony is held to remember men of all sides who died on The Somme in 1916.
The Crater is well signposted from La Boisselle but, as it is up a small local road, parking can be limited. Do go and see it. As you stand on the lip of the crater it is difficult to imagine how much earth and other material was thrown up into the air that morning.
Cecil Lewis, an officer in the Royal Flying Corps, saw the mine explode from his aircraft high above La Boisselle.
‘The whole earth heaved and flared. A tremendous and magnificent column rose up into the sky. There was an ear-splitting roar, drowning out all the guns, and flinging my aircraft violently around. The column of earth rose higher and higher to almost 4,000 feet.’
Include the Newfoundland Memorial Park in your Visit The Somme what to see itinerary as it is one of the best preserved battlefield sites, showing the lines of the original trenches and the barbed-wire entanglements. Of course 100 years of weathering has had an impact on the ground, but you can still walk through the trench lines and get a real feel for what it was like.
Beaumont-Hamel was situated near the northern end of the 28 mile front being assaulted by the joint French and British force, and was one of many fortified villages just behind the German lines. It was one of the objectives for the 758 soldiers of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment as they ‘went over the top’.
The German defenders had been busy. Extra lines of trenches were dug. Their soldiers were able to go down into deep, reinforced dugouts and so survive heavy bombardment. A series of strongpoints were built at key places to dominate the battlefield. And extra barbed-wire entanglements were constructed.
As the Newfoundlers moved from their trenches towards the German lines they came under accurate fire from the 119th [Reserve] Infantry Regiment. They suffered awful casualties – most of the Newfoundlers were dead, dying or injured in the 20 minutes after they left the safety of the St John’s Wood trench. Most got no further than the danger tree – a skeleton of a tree in No Man’s Land, which you will see on your visit.
The Regiment started with 22 officers and 758 other ranks, and of these all the officers and 650 other ranks became casualties. Of the 780 men who advanced on 1st July only 68 made roll call the next morning. Just think of the impact this had on Newfoundland – virtually a whole generation of young men were wiped out on one day.
When exploring visit the Somme what to see The Newfoundland Memorial Park opened on 7th June 1925 by Field Marshal Earl Haig is one of the most moving, and is one of only two Canadian National Historic Sites outside Canada, the other being at Vimy Ridge.
A haunting Caribou Memorial is situated on the high ground at the western side of the park, behind the British July 1916 front line, from where the 1st Battalion the Newfoundland Regiment began its attack on that fateful morning.
You can get a superb view of the whole battlefield from the Caribou Memorial. Walk up the circular path to the Caribou and at the top there is an orientation table, giving an overview of the Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel village, and the Thiepval memorial.
The Visitors’ Centre is staffed by young Canadian volunteers who will give you an excellent [and free] guided tour of the whole Newfoundland Memorial Park. The guides are well informed and a full tour can take up to one hour. So get down in the trenches and follow the soldiers’ footsteps. See how close the petrified ‘danger tree’ is … and yet how far it must have seemed to the boys that day.
The Newfoundland Memorial Park is well signposted and there is a free car park available for cars and coaches. If the Visitors' Centre is closed you can park on the road and still walk around the Park.
If you found Visit the Somme what to see helpful, link to:
Visit the Somme - brief history and background
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