Tuesday 1 July 2014

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme

Yes I know every one who goes to the Great War (can’t stand that Americanism WW1) battle sites and cemeteries goes to Thiepval. I had a reason, my maternal Grandfather fought at the Somme and was finally gassed at Passchendale.

This war memorial was to 72,195 missing British and South African men who died in the Battles of the Somme with no known grave. Over 90% of these soldiers died in the first Battle of the Somme between 1 July and 18 November 1916. When you consider that there was 57000 British casualties on the first day and of those 19000 were killed you begin to see those rows of white headstones and grey crosses in a different light.

Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial was built between 1928 and 1932 and is the largest British battle memorial in the world. It’s a very complex and clever design which reflects the taste and mood of the 1930’s, to my eye it’s rather ugly but with that majesty that so many of Lutyen’s memorial designs have.

The cemetery below the memorial holds 300 British Commonwealth graves and 300 French graves, many of the soldiers buried here are unknown. The Commonwealth graves have the usual inscription "A Soldier of the Great War/ Known unto God". The French grey stone crosses bear the single word "Inconnu" ('unknown').

It is near the village of Thiepval, Picardy in France. A, to my mind rather tacky and very biased, visitors' centre opened in 2004. Thankfully it is out of sight of the main memorial.

Tony Middleton

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