Today the tour to us to the Somme region of France. The landscape its self has forever been changed as a result of the massive Allied offensive that moved through the area beginning on July 1, 1916. The severe fighting that lasted until November 1916 had left an awe-inspiring effect on the land. One of the most impressive reminders of the brutal conflict is the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont-Hamel. This park has left the trenches as they were when the land was acquired. No new elements were added to the ground. There is no attempted to recreate the trenches as they were on the day the Newfoundlanders went over the top. They moved from a reserve position behind the front line after the initial attacks. The communication trenches are clearly visible to this day along with numerous shell holes through the Newfoundland lines but also in the eternal gap of No Man’s Land. The space they move through may seem small on a map but the space would take an eternity to cross while under fire with the trench full of the dead and the soon to die.

One can see the ground that they contended with and why the battalion took so many casualties that day. The German controlled the better firing position leaving the battalion exposed to the deadly machine gun fire. The added danger of barbed wire makes the ground unpassable. One can read the tactical problems of the attack in a book but the offensive on the Somme can not be fully understood until seeing the ground were the Newfoundlanders advanced blindly into the German lines were they were summarily cut down. Memorials dot the park to honour those who fell there. I believe the scars on the land truly give one a small sense of what actually happened here and why some many lives were cut short in the pursuit of victory.

The Somme has daily reminders of what happened here one hundred years ago. These are not as large as the trenches at Beaumont-Hamel. This history can literally be held in your hands. Shells remain on the sides of the road after planting season awaiting proper disposal. Pieces of shrapnel litter the fields after the plowing has taken place in the spring. These shells still present a danger to farmers as these materials of war may still explode when touched or release dangerous gases. We do not face these problems in Canada as our country as been little touched by the horrors of combat. I personally found a large piece of a shell fired at some point near Adanac Cemetery. It is an emotional experience to hold a one-hundred-year old piece of shrapnel. The immediacy of the danger is but a small experience compared to what was faced in killing fields. We students can now understand how war affects those who gave their lives for our tomorrow but also those still living in the battlegrounds. We will never be able to easily forget what happened in the farm fields of the Somme.

Brad St.Croix