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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Up to Mametz

Karl Murphy

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On 31/05/2008 at 11:28, Karl Murphy said:

Friday 16 May 2008

Well usual story this morning, got up and had breakfast and caught the train to Albert. Actually my departure was delayed a bit as I had to find a chemists and purchase some plasters to put on the cuts and blisters on my feet. As a result I missed the early trains out of town and it was after 11 am before I caught one.

I think I reached Albert about midday or so. The plan for today was to visit the Ulster Tower and Thiepval, which are situated quite close together. I had more or less made my mind up that this day anyway I was not going to push myself to the limits. Did I have the stamina to walk the distance? – I think so. Did I have the psychological inclination to undertake it – not particularly. But the deciding factor was the state of my feet. With a cut on my left foot and a nice little blister to match + another one welling up on my right foot it would have been silly to undertake it and then have to turn back in pain halfway up there. As I had so far underspent on my day by day budget that gave me a bit of leeway money wise on getting a Taxi out to the sites I wanted to visit that day. I reckoned if I got there I would figure out a way to get back again.

So I went back to the Tourist Office and asked the guy there to ring for a taxi but check how much it was first. He did and got a quote of around €15.00, which was better than I expected. (Though it makes me wonder why I was given a price of €25.00 to get to Mametz on Wednesday?) He told me to wait outside and the taxi would be along in about 10 minutes. As it happened the taxi was there in about two minutes. Off we went so up along the valley of the Ancre and came in by the Ulster Tower side. I asked him to drop me there. He had already offered to pick me up afterwards from Thiepval and bring me back and we parted on those terms.

The Ulster Tower was erected back in the 1920’s and IIRC was one of the first permanent memorials erected on the Western Front. It commemorates the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division who attacked and seized the strongly fortified Schwaben Redoubt on 1 July 1916 and held it for most of the day until strong German counter attacks retook it. It is certainly quite picturesque and the adjacent tearooms are nicely laid out, as is the interpretive centre. The very nice lady there loaded me up with all sorts of info and off I went to the tower itself. You go up a set of steps into it and while the room is small it is full of tributes and wreaths of poppies from various groups honouring the Ulstermen who fought on the Somme. Their sacrifice in uniform that day and thereafter certainly has a resonance that is still around today in the North but that is almost gone elsewhere in Ireland.

After that I decided to walk up to the Thiepval Memorial as it is visible from where I was (and indeed is visible for miles around too) and I was there within about 5 or 10 minutes. Even though I knew in advance that the Memorial was closed I was somewhat disappointed that access even to the grounds was blocked off. There was no clear reason that I could see that this would be so. There was no observable work being carried out and even if so it would have been quite possible to bring guided tours up much closer and see the Memorial to the missing in at least some detail without disturbing any ongoing restoration. I walked around the periphery until I could get some decent photos anyway.

The Visitors Centre itself is a modern structure and fulfils the function it was I presume designed for - which is to cater for visiting coach loads of people there to see the Memorial. There is a film documentary running constantly and a better than expected bookshop. Bit surprised there was no restaurant but only vendor sandwiches and Tea/Coffee machine. Mind you €2.50 for a sandwich and €1.00 for a Cappuccino Coffee was pretty good value in what would generally be considered a ‘tourist trap’ location.

The weather having cleared by this stage from wall to wall cloud cover to one of interspersed sunny breaks I sat outside on the grass and took it easy for about half an hour. Then I walked about a bit and took in the surrounding vista and landmarks trying to fit that all in with what was happening around here on 1 July 1916. The village of Thiepval is right in front of the Centre and that was heavily defended by the Germans against the men of the 32nd Division + you have a side on view of the positions from which the Ulstermen launched their assault on the Schwaben Redoubt. So this was a good vantage point to take all this in.

Once back inside I made a few small purchases including a trench map of the area around Longueval. I then got the petite blond behind the counter to call the taxi man again and after a bit of language confusion with she handing the phone to me and me handing it back to her plus the woman at the other end not having a clue what I was talking about the taxi trip back was arranged. It took him about 20 minutes to get there and he even apologised for being late due to a bicycle Tour holding him up! As we set off I began thinking ‘well here I am in a taxi that is costing less than I thought and on the Western Front so lets see something else’. I remembered that the 1SSR saw action at Beaumont Hamel later in the year so that was quite close by. I asked the driver to take me there and we reached it within minutes.

This area though is most well known for the terrible ordeal suffered there by the Newfoundland Regiment on 1 July when most of the attacking troops were cut down. My driver said he would wait for me so off I went for my whistle stop tour of the Newfoundland Caribou site. It is a distinctive monument situated on a rise that gives a good vantage point of the ground over which the Newfoundlanders had to advance. By a stroke of good fortune there was a party of college students over from Newfoundland being shown around and I was able to tune in to the running commentary that their well-versed guide gave on the events of that fateful day. Actually it was only when I got talking to him after he had finished that I realised where they were from. Then it was off down into the Trenches… Actually they are pretty sanitised affairs with functioning duckboards and sans dead bodies but at least it gives visitors a small idea of what was involved.

After that it was back to the taxi and return to Albert, which cost me €22.00. So €37.00 all in for the day’s outing and considering that I had allowed for €60.00 or thereabouts it was pretty good going. + the driver was a decent guy and we had a bit of a chat on the way out and back. He lived in Pozieres with his family IRRC.

Headed back to Amiens after that as the toll of the last few days had drained my energy more than I cared to admit – I had enjoyed the day but I was conscious that enjoyment declines the more tired you get and I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew.

Tomorrow was another day.

Good to read about your trip Karl.

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