Travels on the Somme Part Seven – The Battlefield of Beaumont-Hamel: Newfoundland Memorial Park UPDATED

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Half a mile south of our last visit to the Beaumont-Hamel battlefield, we now find ourselves just to the south west of the village, where part of the ground fought over was purchased by the Newfoundland Government soon after the war, and has been preserved ever since.

Part One

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Not only the remains of both British and German trenches, but three cemeteries lie within the park’s boundaries.

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Park entrance.

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Before entering, this tablet is dedicated to the men of the Newfoundland Regiment who fought here.

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Once in the park we encounter two bronze plaques (above & below), in French and English, that flank the path.

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“Newfoundland War Memorial Park Beaumont Hamel”

“This park embraces the ground over which the Newoundlanders fought ont the first of July 1916 and was purchased and constructed under the direction of Lt-Col T. Nangle and R.H.K. Cochius Esq, Landscape Architect, from funds subscribed by the Government and women of Newfoundland, and was opened by Field Marshal Earl Haig, late Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, on June 7th 1925.”

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No time to inspect the Visitor’s Centre.

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As we start to walk down the west side of the park…

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…we pass this memorial to the 29th Division.

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It was the men of the 29th Division who were tasked with the attack on Beaumont-Hamel on 1st July 1916, the Lancashire Fusiliers attacking from the Sunken Lane on the division’s far left as we have seen previously, the Middlesex, Royal Fusiliers and Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the centre along the Hawthorn Ridge, the Border Regiment and South Wales Borderers here at the park, with the Newfoundlanders in the second wave, and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and King’s Own Scottish Borderers, followed by the Essex and Hampshire Regiments, attacking on the division’s far right a little way south of the park.

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Tread softly here.

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The British front line is about a hundred yards ahead of us, crossing the photo.

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Rusty gun carriage.

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There are the remains of trenches everywhere here (above & below).

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Panorama of much of the park looking north and east.  Y Ravine Cemetery, sited on the old German front line which roughly followed the trees across the picture, can be seen near the centre of the photo at the bottom of the slope (we shall visit it later), and the humps and bumps of the old British front line cross the picture fifty yards ahead of us.  As you can see, this was one of the few places along the Somme front where the British would be attacking downhill.  As if it would make any difference…….

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The Caribou Memorial, one of five such to be found on the Western Front.

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In 1918 the Newfoundland Regiment was granted the honour of adding the prefix ‘Royal’, the only regiment to receive such a commendation during the Great War.

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The Newfoundlanders were in reserve on the morning of 1st July, not due to attack until 8.45 am, which in reality became 9.05 am, alongside the Essex Regiment on their right.  The communication trenches leading to the front line (we shall encounter some shortly) were so clogged with wounded from the previous wave that the Newfoundlanders were ordered to climb out of the trenches so that they could reach the front line quicker.  The Germans, in their trenches at the bottom of the hill, suddenly saw men out in the open and mowed huge numbers of them down before they could even reach their starting-off point.  Of these, many must have been slaughtered by enfilade fire from their right as they funnelled through gaps in the British wire.

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The Newfoundland Regiment suffered huge losses that morning, not far short of 700 men being recorded as killed, wounded or missing.  The regiment had, in effect, ceased to exist.

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814 men are remembered by name on the three panels beneath the memorial, men of Newfoundland who died on land and at sea during the Great War and have no known grave.

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The two smaller plaques on each side remember the missing men of the Newfoundland Mercantile Marine (below), and the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve.

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Our route continues down the western side of the park…

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…the British trenches (above & below), their edges softened by time and nature, wending their way through the fields.

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The old British front line.  What scenes took place here one can only imagine.

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Down in the north west corner of the park, we reach the site of the first of three cemeteries to be found within its boundaries, Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No. 2 (No.1 is beyond the boundary of the park a few hundred yards away in the fields to the north).  All three are in what was once No Man’s Land.

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Over 200 men are buried here…

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…of which a quarter are unidentified.

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Although all but thirteen of the identified burials here are men killed on 1st July, the cemetery was not actually begun until the spring of 1917 during battlefield clearance.

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The regiments represented here are as you might expect; men of the South Wales Borderers and the Border Regiment, the first to attack down the slope on 1st July, Royal Fusiliers and Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who attacked across the fields to the north of here, and some of the Newfoundlanders who fell in the second wave.

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A hundred yards away due east…

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…along this pathway (this view looks back towards Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No. 2) …

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…we come to the second of the three cemeteries in the park.

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Hunter’s Cemetery, as you can see, is a most unusual cemetery.

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Hmm.  Unfortunate.

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All the men buried here fell on the day of the eventual capture of the village of Beaumont-Hamel, 13th November 1916, except for one man who died a few days later.

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The cemetery is actually a mass grave, where 46 men were buried in a huge shell hole once the battle had ended.

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Of these five are unidentified…

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…and, of the other 41,…

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…32 are men of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) who, along with the Gordon Highlanders (seven Gordons lie here), were the first to assault the German lines on the first day of the Battle of the Ancre in November 1917, the last engagement of the Battle of the Somme.

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The reason for the cemetery’s title is lost in the mists of time; it may be that it was named after a Black Watch chaplain.

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Hunter’ Cemetery, with Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No. 2 in the background.

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Just to the north of the cemetery…

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…traces of the German front line become visible (on the right) and it is evident how close to the German trenches the shell hole that became a cemetery was.

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More remains of the German front line.

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It was the men of the 51st (Highland) Division who finally took Beaumont-Hamel on 13th November 1916, and this memorial (there’s another, smaller one in the village, if you recollect) remembers their sacrifice.  Just beyond the trees to the left, what looks like a huge crater is in fact the famous, or infamous, Y Ravine.  Steep and deep, the ravine runs from east to west for half a mile from here to the village of Beaumont-Hamel itself.  In 1916 it was lined with dugouts and bunkers, which provided good cover during the seven day British artillery bombardment that preceded the battle, and allowed German reinforcements to reach the front line in relative safety once the battle began.

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Unveiled in 1924, the kilted Scottish soldier gazes out over the ravine and the battlefield beyond.

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A fine monument, in my opinion.

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Y Ravine.  This view looks north, the German front line crossing the field from the group of trees on the horizon, the same trees that stand within the Hawthorn Ridge Mine Crater that we visited a couple of posts ago, before curving around the end of the ravine at this point and then continuing south east just a few yards behind us parallel to the path, as you will see in a minute.  How many men of the Royal Fusiliers and Royal Dublin Fusiliers lost their lives in the field beyond the ravine that morning?  Not one reached the German line.

Beaumont Hamel German Trenches

It’s worth taking a look at a trench map at this point, the German lines in red, the British attack coming from the left side of the map. The Sunken Lane can be seen in the top left square.  A little further south Y Ravine (Ravin en Y) is marked,and you can see not only its length, but exactly why it got its name.  The view below looks north across the western end of the ravine from the Y on the map.

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I have seen photographs of dead British soldiers lying in the ravine, but who they were, and exactly where the photos were taken, we will probably never know, and, as far as I am aware, all were killed or, if they were lucky, captured.

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I’m not entirely sure why this memorial has been placed here, as High Wood is a good few miles away from here, south of the Albert-Bapaume road.  And we shall pay it a visit, sometime in 2016.

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Above & below: Our route continues along the German front line…

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…which we cross as we begin our return journey up the eastern side of the park.

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A short walk and we arrive at the third cemetery within the Park’s boundaries…

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…Y Ravine Cemetery.  Like the other two, this cemetery is sited in what was once No Man’s Land, the German front line trenches being some 75 yards behind the cemetery at this point.

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Another cemetery begun in the spring of 1917, Y Ravine Cemetery contains mainly men killed on 1st July and 13th November.

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There are more than four hundred burials or memorials in this cemetery…

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…of which more than a third are unidentified.

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136 of the identified burials died on that terrible first day.

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Cross of Sacrifice.

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The cemetery was originally called Y Ravine Cemetery No. 1.  Y Ravine Cemetery No. 2 was about 300 yards south east of here and the burials there were later moved to Ancre British Cemetery, where we shall pay a visit next post.

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Scottish dead, killed on 13th November 1916.  123 of the identified burials here are men killed on that date.

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Unidentified soldiers lie among men of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, South Wales Borderers, Border Regiment and the Newfoundland Regiment, all killed on 1st July.

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There are 61 special memorial headstones, eight of which are Newfoundlanders, to men ‘known’ or ‘believed’ to be buried here (above & below).

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This view looks south west across the park.  You can now see clearly, from a German viewpoint, how this small patch of land became a killing field that morning.  Any soldier caught out in the open would have had little chance, machine gun fire from the bottom of the hill and enfilade fire from here cutting many of them down as they crested the slope at the top of the field.

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More 1st July burials (above & below).

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Time to begin our return journey.

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Looking south, towards the British lines at the top of the slope…

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…and looking west.  German machine guns from behind the cemetery and in the trenches behind us had a superb field of fire up and across the park.

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You can see how the terrain forms a valley down towards the fir trees on the right, and you can bet that German barbed wire funnelled any surviving attackers down into this valley, where they became sitting ducks for the German machine guns beyond the cemetery.

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About halfway between the two front lines, this tree, often referred to as petrified, but actually distinctly concreted, has now become a place of pilgrimage, as you can see.  It is said that survivors of the Newfoundland Regiment’s attack tried to find shelter hereabouts as the German machine guns and, lest we forget, artillery, searched the battlefield for them.

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I have no reason to disbelieve it.

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Looking south towards the park entrance from near the tree, the caribou on the right, with the remains of the British front line running along the crest of the rise.  You can see how much flatter the land immediately in front of the British trenches is compared to the much steeper slope they would encounter shortly.  Those who weren’t already dead, that is.

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More remains of British trenches.

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And finally, one more shot of the Caribou Memorial, before it’s time to leave the park.  Newfoundland Memorial Park is well worth a visit if you’re planning a Somme trip, and as fate would have it, it seems that I may well be returning there much sooner than I ever would have thought.

Part Two

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Not a bad tour, if I say so myself, but I was aware, on returning to Blighty and finally getting a chance to go through some 1500 photographs taken during the trip, that there were some omissions, as there were bound to be, and particularly here at Newfoundland Memorial Park.  How lucky, then, to find myself back in the park just a year later…

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…this time as a member of the Friends of Surrey Infantry Museum trip to the Somme.

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You may have spotted, much earlier in the post,…

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…that although I mention the two smaller plaques beneath the Caribou, and there’s a (poor) photograph of the Newfoundland Mercantile Marine Roll of Honour, there is no picture of the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve Roll, nor is there a close-up of the main panel.

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Let’s put that to rights first.

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I hadn’t walked down one of the British trenches on my first visit, so now I took the opportunity to do so.

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As you’ll have noticed, not such a nice day,…

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…and nothing like as much time…

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…particularly as after only a short while we were all informed that as we were running a bit late we’d only have fifteen minutes to look around.

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And it’s a bloody long way, past the ‘petrified’ tree, to Y Ravine!  Nonetheless, I wasn’t about to miss this chance so, as the others all trooped off to the Visitor’s Centre, Duncan and I set off down the hill.  Rapidly.

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Heading round the park in the opposite direction as previously, we first encounter Y Ravine Cemetery, where, as you can see, renovation work is currently taking place.  If you like, you can have a look at the cemetery plan this time.

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Beyond the cemetery, the old German front line cuts across the track some fifty yards ahead of us…

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…and to our right, another omission from my previous visit, one of the two gullies that form the ‘y’ of Y Ravine.

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The other, main gully of Y Ravine (have another look at the trench map).  Last time I didn’t go to the little viewing platform you can see in the centre of the shot.

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This time I did.

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And I also remembered the shot of all the pictures that I regretted not taking last time.  Looking straight down the gully, this is the view of Y Ravine that reminds me most of the old photograph I mentioned much earlier in the post.

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Duncan snaps the 51st (Highland) Division Memorial, and then it’s time to move on again…

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…past Hunter’s Cemetery,…

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…where once again you might like to look at the cemetery plan this time (though there’s not a whole lot to look at),…

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…(and another shot, looking towards Hunter’s Cemetery, that I should have taken last time – check back and you’ll see what I mean)…

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…and Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No. 2 (cemetery plan, anyone?)…

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…as the clock ticks.

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Panorama looking from west to east across the park.

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And once again, back to the Caribou…

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…and just time for the final omission from last time.

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Not these direction markers, interesting though they are.

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A long way from home.

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But a panorama of the whole park from the top of the mound on which the Caribou stands.  Click to enlarge, as ever.

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The caribou weeps for the lost youth of Newfoundland.

Guess what?  As we arrived hot and sweaty, back at the Visitor’s Centre, the others were just leaving to re-embark on the coach.  I call that perfect timing.

Travels on the Somme Part Eight can be found here.

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4 Responses to Travels on the Somme Part Seven – The Battlefield of Beaumont-Hamel: Newfoundland Memorial Park UPDATED

  1. Helen Coan says:

    Have just found your super website. I can’t get to France so your photographic walks around the various battle sites are an excellant way to see them.
    Are your photos copyright? I’m writing a family history and Arthur Cecil Disney died of wounds at the 19th CCS on the 5th July 1916. He was with the 4th Bn Worcestershire Rgt on the 29th Division. I’d like to use your image of the 29th Division Memorial if that is possible. Thanks Helen Coan (nee Disney).

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Helen. Thank you for your kind comments; I am delighted you found my site and that you are enjoying it. You are welcome to use the 29th Division photo (if you need me to mail you a copy just ask, but you should be able to grab it from the screen) – credit me or the website (theBigNote.com). Interestingly, my friend Duncan, whom you have met in this post, had a Grandfather or Uncle in the Worcesters, although I know not which regiment. He gave me an amazing WW1-related late Xmas present today which I will reveal on this site in due course. Anyway, if you are interested, if you tick the ‘Notify me of new posts by email’ box near the bottom of the page, then you will get notified when I publish a new post. Thanks again for commenting.

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