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TWO DAYS ON THE SOMME

A TEMPLATE FOR A GROUP TOUR  

"I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air--
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair. "

from

Rendezvous with Death:  Alan Seeger  Killed in Action 1916 


The Somme is one of the names which is synonymous with the Great War. It was the site of the largest battle ever fought by the British Army. In 1916, it's where Kitchener's New Army made their big push. 


On the fateful first day they lost more men on a single day in the history of the British Army, before or since. The battle went on for a further 143 days and involved a large part of the British, French and German armies. It's also the site of a second cataclysmic battle in 1918 where the Germans tried, and failed, to win the Great War, and where they were pushed back and beaten. 


It's a landscape of memory with memorials and cemeteries as reminders of this distant war. It's also rural countryside with the sights, smells and sounds that would have been familiar to the men who served here. It's a place with links to many Britons who served “on the Somme.” It's where JRR Tolkein struggled in his own marshes of the dead, where Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen wrote. It's where the Red Baron and Albert Ball duelled overhead. 


It's also where the Commonwealth fought. Not just from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but also from South Africa and India, whose lancers once charged and captured machine guns and where Walter Tull, Britain’s first black outfield footballer fell, where the sons of the prime minster and the opposition are buried a mile apart. The regional nature of the British Army means that many of the places on the Somme have links with British Counties and towns. The following is an outline itinerary covering two days on the Somme assuming a hotel 90 minutes drive from Thiepval. 

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Thiepval Memorial to the Missing 

This is just an outline and there are lots of variations that can be designed. For example:- 

  • The Somme itinerary can be integrated with destinations close to overnight accommodation, for  example a visit to Arras, Neuve Chapelle or Fromelles for accommodation near Lille.
  • The content can be based on school history, humanities, citizenship or English curricula and delivered with the presentation style appropriate for young people with varying preferred learning styles and limited attention spans.
  • Tours can be adapted for different nationalities, including Americans. Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans as well as for Britain's diverse population, or for the story of people associated with a particular town o r region within the UK.
  • Particular themes can be covered such as poets or sportsmen, or the locations linked to particular books, e.g. Birdsong or War Horse.

Sample Itinerary

Day 1 – The First Day of the Somme 1916

This day starts with the story of the 1st Day of the 1916 battle of theSomme. This is the day which has been commemorated inBritainand forever associated with theSommebecause of the horrific losses, just under 60,000 casualties, of which around 20,000 were killed or died of their wounds.

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British Troops in the Trenches

10.00 Thiepval memorial and Interpretation centre. The Thiepval memorial was built on the site of one of the key German strong points on the British sector of theSommeand commemorates the Anglo French forces as well as the memorial to the 74,000 British and commonwealth soldiers who died on the 1916-17 battlefield and have no known grave.

 

11.00 Serre The story of the Pals Battalions and the tragic attacks on Serre in July 1916 and November 1916.

 

12.30 Beaumont Hamel Preserved battlefield and theNewfoundlandRegiment. How lessons were learned between July and November 1916.

 

13.00 Lunch in Auchonvillers. 

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Fricourt German Cemetery 

14.30UlsterTower Hear the story of theUlsterdivision and visit the archaeological e excavations of the trenches in Thiepval Wood.

 

15.30 La Boiselle. Reflect on Tunnelling and Mine warfare. See some of the work being undertaken at la Boiselle to research and preserve the stories of the men who served there.

 

16.30 Carnoy via Devonshire Trench and German Military Cemetery Fricourt Hear the story of the allied successes on the First Day of theSommeand why the battle was continued.

 

17.00 BecourtMilitaryCemetery, Becordel-Becourt and the story of the Treatment of the Wounded on the 1st Day of theSomme

 

Return to Hotel

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British Tank on the Somme Battlefield

Day 2 – The Somme Campaign 1916-18

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Somme Landscape 

This day focuses on the locations associated with the next 143 days of the 1916Sommecampaign and the story of the 1918 campaign which does not always receive the prominence it deserves.


10.00 Caterpillar Cemetery- the Battle for Bazentin Ridge and High Wood


11.00 Delville Wood –On14th July 19163,000 South African soldiers occupied “Devils wood” six nights and five days later 130 men walked out. This was one of the climactic calvaries of theSomme.


12.00 Pozieres This village was a key point in the German second line. It was captured by the Australians in August 1916, It was also on the start line for the first ever attack by tanks.


13.00 Pozieres or Bapaume – lunch stop. En route we will talk about the end of the 1916 battle, one of the most bloody battles in the history of the world.


14.30 Walter Tull and The Somme in 1918 This ground was also fought over in 1918 as the Germans made a desperate attempt to win the war before the industrial might and population of theUSAcould be brought to bear on the Western Front. We reflect on this on a site close to where Walter Tull, footballer and officer, was killed in March 1918.


15.30 Peronne Museum- This contains an outstanding collection of artefacts about the Great War and a chance to see the wider perspective of the war.


1700 Riqueval Bridge. 1918 We finish our visit at the site where the British Army, along side Australian, US and French troops, broke the Hindenberg line and the will of the German army to resist and led to the German call for an armistice

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Other Options might include:-

  • The cavalry story
  • Australians at Mont St Quentin and Péronne
  • Americans at Bellecourt
  • Manchester Hill and St Quentin
  • Canadians on the Somme.
  • New Zealanders on the Somme
  • The story of local men or a particular regiment