This is my first attempt at Blogging so forgive me if it's rubbish.
I have been researching the Great War for many years, and have visited many battlefields, but Saturday just gone prooved something of a turning point in visits.
My Great Uncle Lance Corporal William Thompson was a Lance Corporal in the 9th Lancers and died of wounds in November 1914 at the age of 28. For some time I have wanted to visit the site of the charge of the 9th Lancers at Audregnies, where the charge to the sugar factory came to an abrupt halt courtesy of a barbed wire fence.
After many months of research and consulting maps, PRO checks etc, I headed off to Mons early on Saturday morning. A beautiful sunny day certainly helped matters and I arrived in mid morning. Having checked the map, I could see where I wanted to go, and duly set off along what looked to be a good road. Zut Alors! Not 50 yards down the road, the tarmac vanished, to be replaced by potholes and rubble. Fearing for my tyres I abandoned the car and set off on foot. Arriving at a cross roads I turned right and headed into what I am certain was the 15 foot deep road, mentionned in the records, as being where the C troop formed up. With some difficulty I scrambled up the bank, and discovered that Belgian stinging nettles hurt just as much as British ones. Finally making it to the top of the bank, I was somewhat peeved to find that I had managed to leave my camera and binoculars at the bottom of the bank! 5 minutes, some swearing and three patches of stinging nettles later I was back on top of the bank, looking like a rotund and slightly balding meercat.
The view was stunning. Flat rolling leek fields stretching across to buildings some 600-700 meters distant, sent shudders down my spine. One could quite clearly see how even the slightest rise in the ground afforded a magnificent view. At the mid point of the gentle slope I could see two wooded mounds, which I deduced to be the remains of the 2 slag heaps the survivors of the charge hid behind, and in the far distance I could see what must have been the sugar factory.
I set off up the track, trying to avoid permenantly crippling myself by going over on the rubble. It was hot and dusty, but I was rewarded by banks of wild flowers, butterflies and the scent of lavender. I stopped level with the slag heaps and watched, wondering, had Uncle Will been there? I arrived at the top of the track and stopped opposite the old building that had been the sugar factory. It has now been changed into a farm and modern house, but the original building can quite clearly be seen. Looking back down the gently rolling fields, the madness of it all came home to me. How did anyone stand a chance? A young puss cat from the farm yard wandered over and sat in the road a few feet from me, and yawned. He rolled over in the road and let me scratch his tummy, and it was then that it hit me. This small cat, a living creature, lying in the road where probably so many of the horses and friends of the Great Uncle may well have lain. We haven't learnt, we are still making the same mistakes and will continue to do so.
I probably haven't expressed this well, but it was one of the most moving experiences of my life and I found myself, although I wasn't aware this had happened, wiping tears away. This was not just any battle field, this was my family battlefield, where my family had fought.
May you rest in peace Will, you died in my eyes at least, a hero.