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FRIDAY JULY 1st 2016

We spend the day at Thiepval–witnessing the centenary commemoration of the Battle of The Somme.

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It is a brilliantly organized event, attended by the great and the good…

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and 10,000 of the rest of us, sitting facing the enormous monument designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

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At 7h30 on the the first of July 1916–100 years ago this day–the first soldier went over the top in a battle that would last into November.

Close to 20 thousand British troops were killed that first day.

In all, the Battle of the Somme cost a million Allied and German lives–combined.

Slaughter on that scale–the morass of mud and murder in July 1916–is hard to grasp.

The full horror–the physical nightmare of being there–impossible to experience; viewable, but at once removed, in contemporary photos, in books and museums.

We can only gasp at the sheer scale of it.

Below is a map showing the cemeteries that are located in the area of the conflict–280 of them.

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The vast monument at Thiepval was finished and inaugurated in 1932 in the presence of the previous Prince of Wales–and just seven years before Europe was again engulfed in flames.

The size of this elephantine, enigmatic building–(the finished version was smaller than he had originally envisaged) seems to echo the enormity of the disaster it represents. Was that Sir Edwin’s intention?

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It can be seen for miles around beaming out its message of remembrance–“Lest we forget” over the now benign landscape.

On it are inscribed the names of the Allied dead–below, a part of the wall devoted to names of the 72 thousand soldiers missing in action.IMG_5486

As the ceremony came to a close and taking their cue from a heavy shower minutes before, poppy shaped pieces of paper, representing the fallen, rain down from high on the tower.

Blue for France; red for Great Britain.

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We added a wreath of poppies to the many at the Memorial Cross.

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Our inscription: When will we ever learn?

Inspired by Pete Seeger’s famous song:

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

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