to the Western Front
Part 4: Memorials, Thiepval
Brian Pohanka - October 25, 1999
brief sketch was originally posted at a Civil War discussion
group site and is reprinted here with the author's permission.
walking about the edge of the Lochnager Crater, near La
Boiselle, the wind blowing, sky graying, and some sprinkles
of rain beginning to fall, we got back to our car as a
large tour bus drove up. Prior to that we'd had the
Crater, and its memories to ourselves. This would be the
case at most of the places we visited. The occasional
small group, often older British folks who'd lost a father
or grandfather on the Somme, and sometimes a tour busload
of British or French students. Otherwise very quiet, very
peaceful, very sobering in the serenity and the memories.
Cricket was falling asleep (we had had no sleep to speak
of since flying over from the U.S. and then driving north
from Paris) but I wanted to make use of the time we had,
so drove along the ridge to Pozieres and the Australian
Memorial there. Nearby were the remains of the "Gibraltar
Bunker" -- excavated in recent years -- one of those
relics that speaks volumes for the sophistication and
might of those defensive strongholds. In the distance,
the huge Thiepval Memorial to the Missing loomed on the
horizon. It is supposedly the largest war memorial in
Europe, outside of the Soviet Union anyhow. On it are
the names of 73,367 British and Commonwealth soldiers
killed on the Somme, whose remains were never found, or
One of those whose names appears on the Thiepval Memorial
Munro -- better known as the author, short-story writer
and wit "Saki" -- his pen-name. "Saki"
was killed in the terrible fighting that erased Thiepval
village and Thiepval wood. He was in an advanced "listening
post", with other soldiers posted nearby, when in
the darkness he spotted a match flare -- a Tommie was
lighting a cigarette. -- "Put that bloody light out!"
Sgt. Munro shouts -- and the fatal German bullet pinged
into his helmet and head. The German had fired at the
sound, not at the light. Buried near where he fell, his
grave was lost in the subsequent fighting, and his name
appears among the 70,000 plus on the Thiepval Memorial.
I walked up to the center of the huge structure -- it is
open on the sides -- and at the altar-like block in the
center -- inscribed "Their Name Liveth For Evermore"
-- was a pile of paper poppies, popsicle stick crosses,
copies of photos, letters to "grandad" or "my
father"; very sentimental and heartfelt testimonials
as one sees in our own country at the Vietnam Memorial.
And I put my little photo of "Saki" there --
a Xerox of Munro in uniform that I'd put into a plastic
sleeve (as I'd done with Alan
Seeger at Belloy earlier that day). My tribute to
this master of humour, irony and wit, among all those
other tributes left by those who refuse to forget that
terrible war and its terrible cost....
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