This month guest writer Matt Limb reflects on remembrance day with a touching contribution.
We will remember them.
As the country unites; at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, in the eleven month, the nation will fall silent as we remember the dead of two world wars. I have tried many times, but I cannot think of any other occasion when so many people, at the very same moment in time, focus their thoughts on the same solemn matter.
The Somme Battlefield, Northern France.
Last year the day after Remembrance Day found me on The Somme Battlefield, in Northern France; an eighteen mile trench-line well written in British history for its battle July to November 1916, at the very height of World War One. After visiting for many years, this visit held a strange sensation – it was deserted. No tourist coaches or groups of school children, not even sightseers. Just the occasional farmer carting his sugar beet off the muddy fields. Not only was it deserted in a way I have never seen before, it was also very foggy; which gave it a very eerie and haunting feeling, especially if you add the cold damp air that chilled you to the bone.
Several times I looked over the battlefield, watching the fog and mist rolling past, to see the same view that a soldier of The Great War would have seen; but his would have been Mustard Gas drifting across no-man’s land towards his trench, as he coughed and gasped for breath. It was the type of damp fog that dulls sound, so stood on the front line trenches listening carefully you wanted to hear chattering of the soldiers from a lost generation; at one time it became uncomfortable as a silhouetted figure walked slowly out of the fog, but it was not a ghost of times gone by, just a lone farmer who welcomed me with a nod of his head and warming Bonjour!
My first stop that morning was at the village of Foncquevillers; not an easy name to say in our Anglo Saxon tongue, and is still often referred to as Funky Villers, a name the village was nicknamed by Tommy during World War One. At the back of the village is the Commonwealth War Graves Commissions cemetery, like so many cemeteries it is immaculately kept, with mown grass and the English cottage garden plants & flowers amongst the headstones, even the autumn carpet of recent fallen leaves adding to thoughts of home, as Rupert Brooke said ‘there’s some corner of a foreign field, that is forever England’.
Looking for an old friend.
That morning I was looking for an ‘old friend’ one I had visited a number of times; an old friend who died on 1st July 1916; The First Day on The Somme; but he was no soldier. Captain John Green was a Doctor. On that morning he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour in the face of the enemy. His award was not for leading men in a charge on the enemy positions, but for going into no-man’s land and rescuing a fellow officer who was caught on barbed wire and was unable to free himself. That morning John Green untangled his colleague and managed to drag him to a nearby shell hole where he dressed his wounds, despite the torrent of rifle and shell fire all around him; after dressing his wound he continued to drag and carry him back across no-man’s land, in full sight of the enemy machine guns, to the safety of his own trenches and almost succeeded in doing so when John Green was sadly shot and killed.
John Green now rests in the corner of the cemetery under the shade of a tree. I had my moment of Remembrance as I left a Poppy Cross by his grave, and my two minutes silence stood with him; in doing so thoughts of his brave actions and his humanity in what must have been absolute horrific conditions were in my mind.
I have lost count how many times I have walked, travel by bicycle, car and coach over the Somme battlefields. I have had the pleasure of helping relatives find a long lost grandfather or great uncle, I have helped families find where a family member rests and the reason why they are there; and in doing so I have shared some very private, emotional and moving moments. But I will remember my remembrance pilgrimage, to visit an old friend on that foggy, eerie and haunting morning for a long time!
Matt Limb is the owner of Matt Limb Battlefield Tours & guides groups and individuals on battlefield tours across the battlefields of France and Belgium, more details can be found at www.mlbft.co.uk.
Are you interested in the countryside or shooting? Do you want to join like minded people on a dedicated battlefield tour? Take a look at ‘Tweeds on The Somme‘ a tour dedicated to the memory of the many estate workers, forestry workers, ghillies, stalkers and game keepers who answered the call in World War One & joined the army for King & Country in a War to End All Wars.