Note: We are having more issues with pictures so we will update this post later with pictures we took during the day.
Starting off the day with a delicious French breakfast at the hotel, some of the group got a head start by taking a walk with our professor to the local university while others caught up on some sleep. We all met together though to walk to the Wellington Quarry, which is connected to many other quarries by tunnels made by New Zealanders to advance closer to the German line. The tunneling was done using pick axes instead of explosives so as not to alert the enemy to where they were. In preparation for the Battle of Arras soldiers stayed in these various quarries for eight days. After receiving our audio devices and helmets for safety we descended twenty meters in a lift to get to the Wellington Quarry.
There were various videos throughout the tour that went along with our audio guides telling us about the preparation for the Battle of the Arras, the soldiers lives inside the quarry, and the battle itself. While walking through the quarry we saw where they had painted on the walls to guide themselves through the tunnels, the original objects they had used there (including pickaxes, bunk beds, and bottles), and the drawings/inscriptions/carvings they had done on the walls. Once we got to the top they also showed us a very moving film about the advance, the issues, and the consequence to the soldiers of this unsuitably planned attack. Intially this attack was intended to be a distraction so that French troops could come up from the south to surround the Germans, but they never came through, and while the British Commonwealth succeeded in making a great advance they rested for a day, allowing new German forces to come up to the front and halt the advance. Some of our group discussed later that they thought it was more for people to learn about the attack in general than for a group like ourselves who have been studying the war for a decent amount of time. Overall it was still quite a memorable experience and it was moving to hear about the soldiers and what they had to go through during the war again. After Professor Leubner had dragged away the last person from the exhibit upstairs (me) we headed back to city for lunch.
The next item on the itinerary was a bus ride to Thiepval to see the memorial there and to explore the various cemeteries in the surrounding area. The Battle of the Somme occurred in this area on the 1st of July, 1916 and it is regarded as the bloodiest battle of World War One and ”the worst day in British military history.” Before the battle began there was a continual artillery bombardment for six days, intended to cut the enemy wire and demolish the German lines. Unfortunately, when the bombardment stopped and the inexperienced soldiers of Kitchner’s army finally came out of the trenches most were mowed down by German machine gunners, who were able to survive the bombardment by hiding in their deep trenches. Overall the British soldiers had 60,000 casualties (taken prisoner, injured, or killed) out of the 100,000 who had first attacked while the Germans only suffered about a tenth of this loss.
Many of us started out by visiting The Thiepval Memorial, which commemorates “The Missing of the Somme” (the declared missing in the Somme between July 1915 and March 1918); over 72,205 men whose bodies were never found or could not be identified. Behind the memorial was a cemetery where British and French soldiers were buried by each other to memorialize their eternal comradeship. Often the grave stones were marked with “Inconnu” (Unknown) and “Known Unto God” for those who could not be identified.There was also a visitor’s center nearby that held more information about the battle and the stories of almost 11, 908 soldiers whose names are carved on the memorial.
While some students mostly hung around there a few went to further explore the other cemeteries and a site down the road. Farthest up the road was the Ulster Tower, a replica of Helen’s Tower from the Clandenboye Estate in Ireland built in 1921 to serve as a memorial to the soldiers of the Ulster Battalions who fought there on during the Battle of the Somme. Unfortunately, it is closed on Mondays but we were able to enter the memorial to the Orange Order who fought there as well. The “Orangemen” were part of a fraternity that still exists today and had quite a few men in the 36th Ulster Battilion. We also visited the Connaght Cemetary and Mill Road Cemetary, cemeteries given by the French to serve as resting places for the soldiers of the British Commonwealth. While inspiring some melancholic emotions it was necessary for us to visit these locations in our journey of Remembrance. The phrase “Lest We Forget” was scattered throughout today and I think it is something that we must remind ourselves of even through those dark moments in our travels. I will leave it at that. Thanks for reading.