CWGC launches Somme battlefield guide

Posted on on 13 October 2016
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Publication of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Somme Battlefield Companion is a timely reminder, halfway through the WW1 Centenary, that organisations such as CWGC are taking steps to promote remembrance of the Great War long after the current commemorations are over, writes CN Editor Peter Alhadeff.

There are 230 Commonwealth cemeteries ranged across the broad landscapes of the Somme, a number that even surprised guests gathered for the launch of CWGC's guide at the Canadian High Commission in London.

They vary from small sites with just a handful of graves to the towering Thiepval Memorial, monument to more than 72,000 missing soldiers and the focal point for the daily acts of remembrance running until November 2016 to mark the 141 days of the Battle of the Somme.

But as CWGC's Director of External Relations, Colin Kerr, noted: "If this were just a one-off explosion of interest, we will have all failed."

So in the years ahead, the aim is to encourage people to continue visiting the Somme, getting them out to 'those lesser-known corners of the battlefield' by signposting some of the many personal stories behind the headstones and memorials in the Commission's cemeteries.

'Before Action', a poem by William Noel Hodgson, was published in Britain two days before his death at the start of the Battle of the Somme. Lieutenant Hodgson is buried at Devonshire Cemetery, near Mametz (above - Photo: Centenary News)

*Horace Iles was just sixteen when he was among more than 19,000 British soldiers killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. His grave can be found at Serre Road Cemetery No.1.

*Four Newfoundlanders of the same family - brothers Eric and Bernard Ayre, and their cousins, Gerald and Wilfrid Ayre - fell on 1 July 1916. Each is commemorated at a different site.

*Twenty-one-year-old Vere Harmsworth, son of the British newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere, died during the closing days of the Allied offensive in November 1916. He's buried at Ancre British Cemetery.

*Hector Munro, the writer better known under his pen-name of Saki, is among the tens of thousands of missing British and South African soldiers commemorated on the columns of the Thiepval Memorial. So too is the composer George Butterworth.

*During the Second World War, gardener Ben Leech, a WW1 veteran, was allowed to continue caring for Serre Road Cemetery No.2 during the Nazi occupation.

CWGC Director General Victoria Wallace speaking at Canada House (Photo Centenary News)

"We hope that this book will help people to connect with the experiences of all those served 100 years ago, says Glyn Prysor, CWGC's Historian.

"It's just one more way of contributing to that vast, rich tapestry of commemoration which the Commonwealth War Graves Commission represents."

Publication of the guide is also a further sign that after almost a century of commemoration, CWGC is now actively reaching out, in the words of Director General Victoria Wallace 'to explain what this organisation does and what it has meant to successive generations', as it approaches the 2017 centenary of its own foundation during the First World War.

Centenary News verdict: CWGC's Somme Battlefield Companion is concise, attractively designed, clearly written and avoids military jargon  It lays out four battlefield trails, grouped under chapter headings of the North, Southern Advance, Thiepval Ridge and Attrition. Diagrammatic maps cover each area - for more detail, it's probably worth investing in the special Michelin road atlas overprinted with cemetery locations, available from CWGC.

'CWGC Battlefield Companion Somme 1916' is published by Osprey.

Images: Centenary News