Student Sophie Newbold, 14, describes her trip to the Battlefields
Sophie was on a trip to the World War I Battlefields recently and wrote a really interesting account of her visit which we thought we'd share with you :)
Looking back at my family history, I have found that I have four ancestors, whom were brothers, that were all killed during the 1st World War. Sadly, three of them died on the same day, October 12th, 1916, around Flers where the first British tanks were deployed earlier that month. One of them was severely wounded, another killed by a high explosive shell and the last was missing. The fourth was admitted to hospital almost a year later August 8th, 1917 and died the day after. When a family member died in the war, you would receive a yellow telegram. The mother of these brothers received three of these telegrams in one day.
Lord Kitchener was the leader of the army, he made people enthusiastic about the idea of a war and giving a false impression of what is would be like. Consequently, many people were signing up. Many young men were willing to lie about their age to be able to participate in the war.
Firstly, we visited the Bancourt Memorial Cemetery, where one of the brothers is buried. This was a small cemetery in comparison to the others. During the war, it was occupied by the British force, nevertheless, it was taken about a year later by the Germans in spring 1918, then recaptured by New Zealanders. Newspapers were given to the soldiers to read as well as writing and receiving letters from friends and family.
Then we visited Delville wood, which is where the South African were tasked with defending. It was a strategic position to withhold because it contributed towards further advances to the north. On the 15th of July, an attack took place here and out of the 3153 men who took part in it, only 143 were found unharmed 5 days later. Each soldier would carry a backpack with them which contained essentials such as: weapons, gas masks and belts, and personal belongings like photographs. These weighed roughly 25-35kg.
After, we went to Contay memorial, where another of the brothers is buried. It lies along the western front line that hold 1133 gravestones. It was used for burials between 1916 and 1918, however there was a short period where it went unused. In the spring of 1917, the Germans withdrew to the Hindenburg line, bringing everybody further east and it wasn’t used again until April 1918. Throughout the war, most soldiers began to pray for their lives, the lives of family members and for the war to end. Also, some soldiers made items using what was around them like bombs and shell cases, this is called trench art.
Next, we went to Thiepval, which is the memorial for the missing, whose bodies were never found. It is 45 metres high and the biggest war memorial worldwide. In total, there are 73367 names of both English and South African soldiers engraved into the structure. However, 90% of the people who are found here died between the months of July 1916 and November 1916. These people were never found and have no known grave. In the battle, the Germans built a line of defense around the town of Thiepval, which was then captured by the British on the 27th of September 1916 and then in March 1918 it was recaptured by the Germans. Finally, the British regained the land for good in the August of the same year.
Soon, we went to Lochnagar crater, which is the relic from when a group of miners buried bags of explosives underground. It occurred on the 1st of July at 7:28 in the morning and created a huge crater, which is around 100 metres wide and 30 metres deep. This marks the beginning of the battles of the Somme. 70% of all casualties in the war were a result of shellfire. Any mutilated limbs were replaced by shards of steel. Also, we visited the Canadian trenches and Newfoundland memorial, which is a site of privately-owned preserved trenches which you can walk through. It’s in the North end of the front and got chosen for the Somme Offensive. On the 1st of July 1916, a mine went off nearby and warned the German troops that the British would be attacking later in the day. They fired at the British soldiers as they emerged from their trenches and killed almost 700 men in the first 30 minutes. Between the British and the German trenches there was a site of unclaimed land which was called ‘no man’s land’.
Finally, we looked around the Somme museum in Albert, which helps to retrace the events leading up to the end of war declaration. It gives you a feel of the day to day experiences that the servicemen were having. Bunkers were underground rooms used as a method of defense and to protect people and resources. By the end of the war, gas attacks were regular and deadly, soldiers were issued a respirator for protection. Although, gas attacks are only responsible for 0.2% of losses.
World War I began on July 28, 1914 and finished on November 11, 1918 at 11 o’clock. We celebrate armistice day by wearing poppies to commemorate those who lost their lives during the war. After the war was over, the first crop to grow was poppies, therefore, we wear them as a mark of respect.
After visiting the memorials, I have become to realise the sheer mass of innocent people that were killed over the course of the war. It made me understand how people sacrificed themselves for us to live today and how lucky we are.
Additionally, we wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for those brave and fearless soldiers.