Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Visit to the Western Front

The main battlefields where my Grandfathers hastened the downfall of the Kaiser are conveniently located in a 30 km square east & north of Amiens, an hours train trip from Paris. I did a most interesting day trip there in the company of my pommy cousin George & his wife. We hired a car at le Gare d'Amiens. The weather was grey and showery all day - as it should be on the Somme.

As Monash demonstated, preparation & planning is the key to success on the western front. I had the route pre-planned to minimise distance while keeping things roughly chronological. We located & took all our objectives and got back to Amiens with time for a drink & trip to the Cathedral before our train left. I had the book “Walking with Anzacs” by Mat Mclachlan which was useful for locating sites & for general background, the book “The Story of the 12th” (Lt Gandy was in the 12th battalion & has several mentions), a bound folder with copies of both Grandads’ war records + pages copied from Bean & Les Carlyon’s “The Great War” with me (too heavy to bring) and a 200,000 scale map.
Stop 1: The Le Boisselle bomb crater - allegedly the largest one on the western front. - big hole in the ground.
Stop 2: 1st Division memorial at Poziers. Fine view all round from a viewing platform & a bit of surviving German dug out (Gibraltar bunker).

Stop 3: Mousquet farm. Roadside stop with informative plaque with map.

Stop 4: Canadian memorial at Beaumont-Hamel. Not Australian - but a whole trench system with the cratered no-mans-land between has been preserved - softened by time, but very interesting. There's a useful information centre there too - not to mention a statue of a moose.

Stop 5: An estaminet in Poziers for a drink & a snack. Our Grandad was wounded in this village in what "The Story of the 12th" described as the most intense bombardment the diggers had experienced so far.

Stop 6: The ruined windmill near Poziers.
Stop 7: Chuignes. We identified the woods & ridges that our Grandad manouevred around to outfank fritz.

Stop 8: Lihons: We found the pretty featurless plain that our Grandad penetrated 1.5Km across in the mist & shot up a fritz gun team killing a horse. Somewhere here he won the MC - but no details what for - surely not for shooting a horse?

Stop 9: Richtofen's crash site. I found it easily from a map I had found on the web. It was marked not by a monument (it's not kosher to have monuments to Germans it seems) but by a small roadside sign. My other Grandad, Pvt Mcnamee knew the guy that shot him down - he joined his unit soon after and had told me the story.

Stop 10: Australian memorial at Villers-Bretaneaux. Great view of the Amiens battlefield from the top of the tower.
Trench at Canadian site.
View over no mans land at Canadian site. Allied trenches in forground. They got as far as the little coppice - the forward Fritz trenches are just beyond it and the second line near the further line of trees.
Lt G.T.Gandy's decendants at the site of one of his triumphs.
Richtoffen's crash site.

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