Travels on the Somme Part Ten – Albert

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The rolling plains of Picardy.

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A beautiful spring morning…

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…and the road from Amiens is nearly empty as we head north east…

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…towards the town of Albert, the famous Basilica clearly evident even from this distance.

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On the western outskirts of the town, a Demarcation Stone by the side of the road marks the farthest point east that the Germans advanced in 1918.

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For more information on Demarcation Stones, and to save me writing it all over again, click here.

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View looking south west, away from Albert, past the Demarcation Stone…

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…and from the same spot, looking north east towards the town.

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Above & below: Similar views, different days.

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Albert was the centre of operations for the British throughout their tenure of the Somme front, beginning in the summer of 1915, and as such was utterly devastated by German artillery during the war years.

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The Golden Virgin and Child atop the iconic Basilica, as we saw earlier, is, and was, visible for miles around, and even in the first few months of the war was a target for German artillery.  As early as January 1915 the Virgin was knocked askew, leaning precariously at a ninety degree angle until secured in its new position by French engineers.  Superstition grew that when the Virgin fell, the war would end.

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The Germans finally captured Albert on 26th March 1918 during their spring offensive, British artillery subsequently targeting the Basilica’s tower to prevent its use by the Germans as an observation post.

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The Golden Virgin finally fell in April 1918.  How ironic that it should be British gunfire that saw its ruin.

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And the war went on.

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Albert remained in German hands until liberated by men of the East Surrey Regiment in August 1918.

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In case you’re wondering, the original Golden Virgin was lost once it fell from the tower, and the one you see now is a replacement.

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For those whose French isn’t up to the mark, the right hand column gives a translation in English – click to enlarge.  Note the photo of the ruined Basilica with the Golden Virgin hanging, seemingly precariously, from the top.

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WWI German artillery piece, and British WWII artillery piece.  Behind the guns you can see the entrance to the Somme 1916 Museum, and if you click here, you can have a look around it if you like.

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There really isn’t a huge amount to see in Albert, but the fact that millions of British, Australian, Canadian, South African and Newfoundland feet tramped through this town to, and, for the lucky ones, from the battlefield, makes it a place worth pausing in for a few minutes’ reflection.

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However, before we leave, if you wander down to the Place Emile Leturcq,…

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…there are a couple of plaques on either side of the entrance to the Mairie that are worth a visit.

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The Second World War plaque on the left remembers those who fought and suffered for the liberation of France.

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The one on the right…

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…remembers the men of the Machine Gun Corps who served in the Great War.

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And this is Albert War Memorial, snapped out of the car window as we leave the town.

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From Albert our journey heads north east, along the road to Bapaume, towards the killing fields of La Boisselle.

This entry was posted in Albert, Demarcation Stones, French War Memorials, The Somme. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Travels on the Somme Part Ten – Albert

  1. Chris from Belgium says:

    “For those whose French isn’t up to the mark, there is some English text at the bottom right of this information board – click to enlarge.”

    In fact, the complete text on the right is the (complete) translation of the French text on the left 😉

  2. Mark Dinan says:

    Is there a comprehensive list available which gives the longitude / latitude of the location of all the remaining Demarcation Stones?

    I have mapped out quite a few but many are still missing.

  3. Sid from Down Under says:

    You’ve surpassed even yourself MJS with this magic trip around Albert – and the weather was kind to you! I notice the Aussie flag in the second last image.

    I wonder who nicked the gold leaf from the original Golden Virgin and Child

    Thanks for another wonderful Great War history lesson – please “keep ’em coming”

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Sid. Good to hear from you, and I’m so glad you liked this post, because I was a little worried that I hadn’t written enough – and as you know I don’t write as much on these Somme posts. I think you’ll like the next few Somme ones too; Bapaume Post Military Cemetery, La Boisselle and then the Lochnagar Crater. As far as the original Golden Virgin, yes, you have to wonder what happened to it. Or perhaps bits of it.

      I shall ‘keep ’em coming, don’t worry about that! I have plenty still in reserve (including, by the way, Fromelles and all the nearby cemeteries. And that will be primarily an Australian story). You keep reading!

  4. Sid from Down Under says:

    Unless I’ve missed something – are your travels taking you to Sailly-Laurent? (where my father was severely wounded on 12th August 1917)

    Remember Spoilbank – the map was an eye popper for me. That was where Dad helped bring down a German plane by Lewis gun. I sent you a scan of the piece of lozenge camouflage canvas he ripped off the downed plane – yes I still have it. Struggling to part with it as a donation to our Army Museum

    • Magicfingers says:

      Sorry Sid, I have never been there – I actually don’t know where Sailly-Laurent is. Or is it Sailly-Laurette?

      By the way, can I show the piece of plane to the folks on this site?

      • Sid from Down Under says:

        My turn to be sorry – I could pretend I was trying to “test you” (ha ha) but yes it is Sailly-Laurette. Yet another excuse for my error – I must have been thinking of all the YSL designer label clothing and fashion accessories we can only dream of!

        By all means please do show the piece of plane canvas

  5. MrBob says:

    I’ve been to the Somme area a few times and always been blessed with sunny weather, not like windy and wet Flanders. In my opinion it’s a much prettier area, and much more interesting because a lot of the cemeteries are from specific dates and actions. Ypres tends to have casualties from 1914 – 18 which shows how little movement was made. I’m really looking forward to your new Somme posts because I’ve visited all those place you mentioned.

    Have you got any plans for July 1st? I’d love to go but that’s my busy time at work.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Windy and wet Flanders indeed! Mind you, I’m kinda used to it! You do make an interesting and valid point though. Yet, as you may have gathered, I love being out on Flanders Fields. And of course I’ve been there many times now, as opposed to just this one Somme trip. So far…

      Like you, 1st July will be a very busy time for me too, but I have an alternative plan. If I can’t go in July, I can go in May! Which is much much better than not going at all. I am going to go on my first ever organised trip with the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Museum folk, to follow the East Surreys and the West Surreys (Queen’s) across the Somme. We shall be taking the War Diaries with us. It will be a bit different from me and Baldrick on one of our trips, I think. I shall have to be well behaved.

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