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Remembered Today:

Thiepval Visitor Centre Inauguration


ianw
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Monday saw Cynthia and I on the Eurostar up in first class with the royalty, viscounts and assorted toffs , going to Thiepval. We were in the carriage next to the Duke of Kent and , I must say, that as a way to visit the Somme, it was fabulous. Champagne and good food eased away the miles - many guilty feelings when we contrasted our journey to those of the men who fought at Thiepval.

I think this Eurostar train was the first ever to stop at Picardie Central (or whatever the station is really called ! ) and we went on our way in a fleet of coaches with armed police motorcycle escorts !

First class service continued as we contrived to be personally shown the new visitor's centre by Mike Steadman and Peter Simpkins ! Both these gentleman were as approachable as could be and modest to a fault. A highlight of the trip was Cynthia laying down the law to Peter Simpkins about Maxse's killing of her Queen's soldier, Robert Stark, by way of a lunchtime attack on the Schwaben. Cynthia took on board that Peter is a world authority on the 18th Division but still felt her argument was unassailable !

On a serious note, Cynthia was totally blown away by seeing Robert's photo on the excellent collage of men on the memorial in the main entrance . This display has massive impact and , to a degree, renders the rest of the exhibition a bit superfluous. Well done , Cynthia.

Peter Simpkins was in our carriage for the return trip and we chatted about the Great War, jazz music , base ball and many other subjects for 2 hours or so - the time passed in a moment. Peter generously and modestly shared his massive knowledge of the war. I had to pinch myself. A true privilege to travel in his company.

Another high-light was meeting David Seymour and his superb choir from Thetford Grammar School. Their singing with accompaniment from the Grenadier Guards musicians was very moving and the delightful young ladies of the choir obviously had many admirers among the young guardsmen ,who worked hard to keep us old fuddy-duddies in order.

I think I can say that this was one of the most enjoyable days I have had for many a year. I look forward to seeing the centre again when it is less crowded.

Thanks to all involved for a wonderful day.

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Ian,

Although only one of the PBI, travelling second class, I have to agree that the whole day was most enjoyable. I also thought that the choir was excellant, maybe they should issue a CD. I too, only had a quick sprint round the centre but I'm already looking forward to making a long visit with my 12 year old son next February.

IanC

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I've had intermittent dealings with Peter Simpkin over the years - mainly through a professional historical body - and have never found him less than charming, illuminating and willing to assist. A gentleman in every sense. Lucky you!

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Ian,

A great account, sounds like a fabulous day. When I was last there (August) only the entrance foyer and bookshop was open. Can you describe a little of the layout of the main exhibiton area and what can be seen?

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I'm glad to hear that Cynthia enjoyed herself.

One thing did puzzle me though. I can understand Peter Simpkins holding forth on the listed subjects but just wondered if the "other subjects" included good beer and Ipswich Town FC? I am sure they probably did.

Would I be right in saying that the station was TGV Haute Picarde?

Martin

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And did she curtsey? I know this was bothering her. Not whether to, but how to.

Gwyn

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No, Gwyn, a curtsey was not required thank goodness. She was actually quite well behaved - for a yank.

Yes, Martin , Haute Picardie I think.

Giles P - I liked the exhibition building - very light and airy. Mike Steadman is particularly pleased with the viewing gallery - but we could not visit it due to filming going on.

The exhibits appeared excellent but I will reserve full judgement until I can study them in detail - but with Mike and Peter involved, I think our interests were well served. Good loos a real boon at Thiepval.

I think the centre will be of real use to all its visitors - old hands may feel that the monument's magnificent bleak loneliness has been forever affected - but due to the centre's sensitive positioning, the visitor wanting the monument all to himself will still be able to achieve this out of hours.

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Ian.

It sounds as if you had a great time - do you have any photos of the day you can share with us?

Thanks.

Neil

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Thanks for the great report, Ian!! We're proud that Cynthia did us Yanks proud!

I look forward to what photographs you are able to post.

SJW

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Guest grantshaw1

Please excuse a new boy on his first post, (in fact it's the first time I've ever joined a message board) but can I just echo the words above as another one of the PBI (second class but happy!) who went to the Centre opening in Thiepval on Monday and to enclose a photo just in case it might be of interest.

I really do hope this doesn't crash the system, but please bear with me!

In memory of L/Sgt Henry Shaw 2129, 1/5 Sherwood Foresters, Lewis Gunner, who died on 1/7/16 at Gommecourt

post-8-1096484516.jpg

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Nice photos, Grant! Can't wait to visit!

SJW

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As Ian points out I did, indeed, take the choir to sing at the inauguration on Monday, and for all members of our party (staff and pupils) it was a memorable and moving occasion.

We were there in memory of all on the memorial but in particular of the nine Old Thetfordians whose names appear there. Much research was done in order to be able to tell the children the stories of the Nine, and in the process of that research several members of this forum very kindly supplied information about the activities of various units involved in the battle of the Somme. I write now to thank all who helped with this. As always the help and advice of forum members is very much appreciated.

On the Sunday we visited Newfoundland Park and toured the Visitor Centre before rehearsing. On the way on Saturday we stopped at Vimy Ridge. After the official part of Monday we held our own private wreath laying ceremony, with the Brass Quintet of the Band of the Grenadier Guards as escort.

It was good to meet Ian and Cynthia on Monday. It was moving to meet the nephew of one of the Nine.

For all your help with the Thiepval research, and indeed all my work on the Old Thetfordians of the First World War, ladies and gentlemen, very many thanks

David

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David,

Could you please convey mine and Cynthia's thanks to your choir. They added greatly to everyone's enjoyment of the event. No school could have done more to remember its old boys. A great effort from all concerned - including yourself, of course.

Regards Ian

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