Day 12 – In his footsteps
In July 1916 my grandfather Cuthbert Douglas Adamson arrived back in Amiens with his mates in the 17th Bttn AIF after a stint on the lines in Belgium, en-route to the front. Over a 5 day period these young men marched from Amiens via 5 little French towns to take part in a battle whose name is etched in the minds of every Australian student of WW1 history – Pozieres. Today we followed that route.
We picked up our rental car (a very smart new VW Golf with all the bells and whistles including sta-nav, Tony figured out what buttons to press to make it go and I figured out how to drive the sat-nav, and off we went.
First stop was a tiny little town tucked away on the banks of the Somme River called Argoeuvres. Picture postcard pretty and at 9.30am still covered in frost. We left the car and wandered down what looked like the main street. I stopped in front of a building that had a string of flags across its driveway having noticed the Aussie flag and a little man from across the street called out Bonjour. Now I knew it was polite to respond but I dreaded finding out he spoke as much English as I spoke French. He called his wife who came to our collective rescue. I explained why we were in town and soon two friends came to join the one-sided conversation. Once I mentioned ‘Australian’ they became even more interested in our little visit and at that point another man arrived, said good morning to the locals and shook my hand – I was then introduced to the Mayor of Argoeuvres! We chatted for a few minutes and we all went our separate ways with them wishing me quite an emotional ‘good luck with your visit’ It was genuinely lovely.
Back in the car, sat-nav re-programmed for our next stop Carronnette and we were on our way.
Cardonnette is another farming town, we stopped briefly but it wasn’t as pretty as our first stop so back in the car and off we went to Rubempre
This part of France is farming land, gently rolling land, and even in its winter state still quite green, and everywhere you go, you pass little WW1 cemeteries
Stop four was Warloy-Baillon
And then to Albert. A much bigger town, Albert was occupied by the Germans for part of August and September 1914 and following this, re-taken by the Allies and subsequently the subject of many artillery barrages. The Gold Statue atop the church was hit by artillery on January 15th 1915 and tipped forward till she was hanging over the square – giving rise to the nickname ‘The Leaning Virgin’ The Brits took over the sector in July 1915 and Albert became an important supply depot.
Back in the 13th century a set of underground tunnels were dug under Albert and in 1938 a major reconstruction took place and they were turned into air-raid shelters. After WW2 they fell into disrepair until 1991 when some of the tunnels were renovated and given over to a museum dedicated to the Battle of the Somme. The museum opened in 1992 and houses a relatively small collection of WW1 memorabilia.
After a late lunch it was on to Pozieres. Driving through almost pan-flat countryside it was difficult to imagine how either side got any ‘cover’ from the relentless artillery barrages. The Australian Memorial is situated on the site of the AIF 1st Division’s first major action in France – at a cost of 5,200 casualties. Nearby are the remnants of the Gibraltar blockhouse.
Not far from the Australian Memorial is the ‘Windmill Site’ memorial on a ridge described as being ‘more densely sewn with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.’ Between July 23rd and September 5th 1916 Australia suffered 23,000 casualties of whom more than 6,700 were killed.
Just behind the Windmill Site is a brand new memorial – and the one that brought me to tears. Dedicated only 5 months ago is the WW1 Animal War Memorial.
And nearby the beginnings of what will be the Pozieres Memorial Park – a memorial to the 7000 Aussie diggers killed in the Battle of Pozieres, 4100 of whom have no known grave. It’s currently a field of tiny crosses, laid out in the shape of the Australian Rising Sun slouch hat badge with the two main arms pointing to Thiepval and Mouquet Farm.
Last stop for the day was the massive Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens it is the largest Commonwealth War Memorial in the world and lists the names of more than 72,000 soldiers whose graves are ‘Known only to God’ In the small cemetery behind the memorial 300 French, 300 English and a couple of Aussies are buried. Very few have a name on their headstone.
It was getting on for 4pm, the sun was going down and the temperature was plunging so we headed back to Amiens – found our way to our reserved parking under the aparthotel complex and went in search of coffee and cake.
Tomorrow we’re heading north, the Arras, Vimy and the Couin Cemetery where my Kiwi grandfathers uncle is buried. Hope the weather is a repeat of what we got today.