In 1916 World War 1 was in full force and from July to October the Battle of the Somme was waged. It was one of the largest bloodiest battles ever fought with over 1,000,000 wounded and deaths on both sides. Among the allied forces were many young men from the commonwealth, including New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Canada.
The New Zealand Division joined the offensive in September. 15,000 young men went to fight for King and country in the name of maintaining independence and freedom. In less than 2 months,6000 were wounded and 2000 were dead. The casualties were so huge that many of these young men were unable to be identified and have no grave.
But all that my mind sees
Is a quaking bog in a mist — stark, snapped trees,
And the dark Somme flowing.
Vance Palmer (1885–1959), ‘The farmer remembers the Somme’
In the Somme Valley there are dedicated cemeteries to the fallen. Some 95 years after the battle, My good friend and I cycled to the New Zealand cemetery in Caterpillar Valley near Longueval to pay our respects to her great uncle, one of the fallen. He was one of the many who has no actual grave but is recognised on the memorial wall where his and his comrade’s names are recorded for eternity.
I can’t claim to understand the motivation to go to war but these young men from days past and our young men in our armed forces today have my respect.
The care and respect that the French show the fallen is deep and heartfelt. It is hard to believe that this now peaceful rolling green valley dotted with the cemeteries of fallen heroes was a bloody, muddy quagmire of death. With the death toll so high these soldiers lay where they fell never to return home. In November 2004, one of the unknown solider’s remains were returned to New Zealand. He is honoured for his ultimate sacrifice and represents his comrades in arms. His remains rest in the tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the New Zealand National War Memorial.
It seems to me that it is one of life’s great ironies, that so much death and destruction was wrought to bring peace, independence and freedom.
Lest we Forget. May they rest in Peace.
In response to Travel Theme Challenge – Independence
Yoroshiku Onegai shimasu
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