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Flanders Fields :

The Somme

contalmaison cairnthiepvalIn the autumn of 1914 no one in Great Britain had heard of Serre or Pozieres or Longueval. Yet within two years a handful of tiny villages in the rural French backwater of Picardy had become bitterly familiar names - synonymous with the most appalling military losses in the long history of the Empire. There was scarcely a household in the land that did not lose a husband, a son, or a neighbour on the killing fields of the Somme.

The Somme was not just the graveyard of the German Army; it was (and remains) the final resting place of Great Britain’s ‘Pals’ battalions, raised in the keen spirit of mateship and duty, trained over eigtheen months of high anticipation, and destroyed in a matter of minutes on the bright, sunlit morning of their blooding.

beaumont hamelSomewhere in France will take you to those villages and to the rolling meadows that surround them. We’ll follow the battle from first day to last, starting and ending at the German strongpoint of Beaumont Hamel - an objective for 1 July that finally fell on 13 November. We’ll visit Sunken Road, where the Lancashire Fusiliers sheltered before their ill-fated assault; we’ll stand on Hawthorn Ridge and observe the ground from the German side; we’ll look out across Y Ravine from the magnificent memorial to 51st (Highland) Division,  wander through the preserved trenchscape of Newfoundland  Park, and stand in awe under the massive arches of the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

newfoundlandFurther south we’ll visit Lochnagar Crater, the secluded battlefield cemetery at Gordon Dump, and follow the breathtaking advance across Sausage Valley of McCrae’s Battalion and the Tyneside Irish towards Contalmaison. Then (in the footsteps of the men of 1916) we’ll climb the ridge to Pozières (with the Australians), High Wood (with the cavalry), Delville Wood/Longueval (with the South Africans) and Flers-Courcelette (with some extremely primitive tanks).

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