100th Anniversary of the Battle Of The Somme
Growing up, I was always aware of my immediate family's military service. My maternal Grandmother, Anne Crosby, lost her father, Normal Crosby, during the Battle Of The Somme in September, 1916, when she was only 4 years old. My Grandma always ensured that her children and grandchildren were aware of her father's sacrifice for our freedoms and made sure we understood that there was nothing glamorous about war.
Several months after my Grandmother's death in 2002, as I was looking through some of her personal papers and photos late one Saturday evening, I came across several items from her father. One of the items was a handwritten postcard that my Great-Grandfather sent home to his wife and children a few months before he was killed in France. I also found the original telegram that was sent to my Great-Grandmother advising her that her husband had been killed - very cold and formal.
I then discovered a newspaper clipping from the Toronto Telegram, yellowed from almost 90 years of time. As I read the article, I discovered that my Great-Grandfather was only 27 years old when he was killed, leaving behind his young widow and 3 children, ages 5, almost 4 and 1 year old.
At the time I was 36 years old. I had lived 9 years longer than my Great-Grandfather had. For some reason I never realized just how young my Great-Grandfather had been when he had died. Grandparents, and especially Great-Grandparents, were supposed to be old. 27 years old was not old at all...he still had the best years of his life ahead of him.
Several years ago, while on vacation in France, I journeyed to the battlefields of World War I along with 3 close friends. I always wanted to pay tribute to my Great-Grandfather and let him know that he was not forgotten.
Driving through the French countryside east of Paris, through torrential rains, we accidentally (or by divine intervention), stumbled upon the area where the Battle of the Somme took place. We had been aiming for the French town of Courcelette, and the location had been carefully programmed into the GPS of the Mercedes. However, somehow we were directed off of the main highway and onto a series of what could best be described as pathways, barely large enough for a single vehicle, until we came across a small sign which I have posted a photo of at the top of this page. We had been lead directly to where the battle took place, in the middle of a farmer's field.
There were no large road signs leading us to this site. After we stopped and looked around, we continued towards Courcelette. During our drive we came across many Commonwealth grave yards, each beautifully maintained, most sitting in the middle of nowhere.
The feeling each of us had as we stood in the beautifully kept graveyards looking at perfect rows of white headstones was hard to describe. One of the things I found most horrifying about the graveyards was how many headstones were simply marked "A Soldier Of The Great War". No name was listed.
Thousands of brave soldiers fought and died during WWI and their remains were never identified.
Despite my shock at just how many of these brave men would never be known, including my Great-Grandfather and several other family members, I felt a sense of calm. These men were buried with their comrades, together in death as they were in life. The graveyards were peaceful and carefully maintained by unseen volunteers, and maintained with love and respect.
The photo gallery below are all my personal photos from the Somme, and from Vimy Ridge, where Canadian soldiers who have no known gave, are memorialized.
Since that time I have been impressed with the number of men and women that I have discovered in my family that all volunteered their service to protect our freedoms. I am proud of my ancestors and relatives who so bravely fought to defend our freedom and will be forever grateful for their sacrifice.