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The following is a transcript of my daily diary written on day two of the trip.
Tuesday September 10th, 2002
Day Two! Woke up very early and was up at just after 6 a.m. Had a shower and got ready and at 7 a.m we chanced that breakfast would be ready. It was so I had quite a substantial breakfast and coffee and then returned to the room to pack and loaded onto the coach at 8.30 a.m for the two hour journey to the Somme area.
I just couldn't keep awake on the coach. It always has that affect on me. The first stop was at Serre to view more war graves (a seemingly never ending stream). Other stops were made at the Sheffield Park Memorial to the Pals Battalions, the Sucrerie, the Newfoundland Memorial Park, Ulster Tower, Lochnager Crater and the Thiepval Memorial. It was a day full of poignant history. The areas were all relatively short distances from each other and so there was plenty of getting on and off the coach.
Mike Mizen had plenty of stories to relate and there were some outstanding places to visit. It was easier to visualise battles on the Somme rather than at Ypres where the lay-outs were somewhat difficult to comprehend.
Yesterday included a visit to a museum which included mock trenches. They were in the same positions as the original but had been reconstructed to add to the effect. Today at Newfoundland Park we saw trenches in their more original settings. Over 800 Newfoundland riflemen were butchered there. Today there is peace and tranquility with sheep grazing.
We walked up tracks, through cemeteries and saw huge craters and even discarded ammunition which is still being dug up. The graves were, a s always, immaculately kept and one can't help but think that this is at least a better resting place than what those who died might be afforded if their bodies had been brought home.
The Pals Battalions were exactly as the words implied - battalions made up of friends and work colleagues, or people from the same area and town. They signed up because of promises of good conditions and a short fight which would be over by Christmas - was that wishful thinking or downright lies I ask myself.
Ulster Tower was an exact replication of a real tower in Ireland. The Lochnager Crater was a massive crater where thousands were literally blown to pieces by a land mine.
Our tour concluded at the Thiepval Memorial which was massive and contained the names of 60,000 killed, all listed in their battalions. It was the final piece of poignancy in two marvellous days. The Rotary Club laid a wreath and Mike added a fitting end to the day with the words. "Now let's do something that they couldn't - let's go home."
We left at 3.30 p.m for the return coach drive to Calais. There was time to stop at a wine warehouse where the prices didn't seem tremendously different to at home. I got some cheap wine and beer.
Before getting the return shuttle, there was time for a snack. The return journey dragged rather as we were all rather tired. We were back at the Norwich Hotel by just after 10 p.m. Loaded my car up and drove home, taking a circular route to avoid road works and the possibility of getting stuck in football traffic. Norwich got knocked out of the Worthington Cup by losing at home 3-0 to Chelmsford!
I was home by 11 p.m and did a small amount if unpacking before going to bed at the end of two very interesting days. I really would like to do some further research and Internet work and writing on the propaganda aspects of the war. It fascinates me how so many young men could simply blindly follow orders. There was such a huge gap between what was promised and the reality.
Ultimately there are so many lessons for us to learn from this. Taken to the ultimate this kind of blind fanaticism could lead to the total breakdown of society (a theme I intend to take up in my Internet writing).