AUGUST 4TH 2014
TOURISTS AND PILGRIMS
In July, 1923, my two great uncles set sail for France. They took a photo of the white cliffs of Dover as they sailed away; somehow they arrived in Albert where they more than likely checked into the Basilica hotel with its view of the Basilica opposite, and its legendary Golden Madonna.
Probably the next day they travelled out to Mametz woods in an attempt to locate the last place that their brother had been seen, for he had fallen at 3.23 on the morning of July 14th,1916 -having only had time to shout “charge” to his men before a German bullet shot him through the head and as he was the bombing officer that morning, carrying 20 odd hand grenades – he may have taken a few of his men and his batman with him. No body was ever found for Archibald, maybe he is one of the 8 or so Leicestershire 8th buried in the Flatiron cemetery that is situated opposite the battlefield now, however, in 1923 that cemetary was not there and the family photos bear witness to two brothers walking around a cornfield, heads down, carrying sunflowers and wondering where to place them.
They were not the only ones,from as early as 1918 British tourists flocked to the Somme to visit the battlefields in an attempt to capture something of what their loved ones must have experienced, to see for themselves where their loved ones had fallen. Veterans from the war returned to aid the clearing of the fields and the government organised trips to the Somme, with record numbers in the 20 s because this had been a civilian s war and ordinary people needed places to grieve and mourn.
Some say that with time the emotional involvment with such places of pilgrimage change into something different, a more ordinary form of tourism even, but I cannot see this ever happening in the WW1 battlefields – no one can come away unmoved by them nor should they.
Only last week I came away from the very same field pictured here, 98 years after Archie fell and 93 years after his brothers’ visit and I can assure you I was moved. This is how it will be for generations to come for the beautifully kept cemeteries and monuments ensure that NO SOLDIER will ever be forgotten, nor lost, ever again.
J BOWELL LA SOMME 2014