to the Western Front
Part 5: Ulster Tower, Beaumont
by Brian Pohanka - October 26, 1999
brief sketch was originally posted at a Civil War discussion
group site and is reprinted here with the author's permission.
paying homage at the Thiepval
Memorial to the Missing, we drove on to another conspicuous
monument, the Ulster Memorial Tower. A copy of a Northern
Irish castle turret, it marks the ground where the British
forces attained one of the few successes on July 1, 1916.
The 36th Ulster Division managed to pierce the German
lines and drive a wedge into the enemy lines between the
village of Thiepval and the Ancre River. This involved
some particularly ferocious bayonet fighting for possession
of the Schwaben Redoubt. But as in the cases of the other
limited breakthroughs, the ground gained was ultimately
lost, for the most part -- because the Ulstermen were
not supported. The reserves that might have ensured at
least a partial victory were simply not at hand. Even
so a handful of brave men managed to fight their way into
the German second line before all of that little band
were killed or captured.
After visiting the small museum nearby the Ulster Tower,
walking back to the car I spotted a grim harvest of some
Somme farmer -- a large unexploded shell, left beside
the road to be picked up by the French demineurs.
This was the time of year when farmers prepared their
fields for winter, and the plowing as always turned up
the dangerous residue of the Great War. Every year some
three dozen French farmers, or the demolition men who
collect unexploded ordnance, are killed or severely injured.
A tractor runs over a shell, or someone makes the mistake
of attempting to disarm one for a souvenir, or an accident
occurs in one of the warehouses where the ordnance is
gathered prior to being detonated at one of the designated
off-limits sites along the English channel (the shells
are actually taken out at low tide, set in place, and
set off after the incoming tide covers them). We would
encounter more shells in the days to come.
Our final stop of the day before we located our hotel
and got some much-needed shut-eye was a vista overlooking
the valley wherein the little village of Beaumont
Hamel is nestled -- serene, pretty in the sun and
wind that had now cleared off the clouds and drizzle.
How hard it is to imagine the hell of that blasted landscape
of 1916-17, today! The fields now fertile again, the woods
grown out and trees swaying in the breeze, basking in
the golden glow of late afternoon sunlight. But some of
the grimmest photos of the War show Beaumont Hamel, reduced
to rubble, the church leveled, the cemetery and its dead
up-churned, everything mud and wire and death. The difference,
today, could not be more dramatic.
Pondering those sobering thoughts we drove back to Albert.
We would explore the area around Beaumont Hamel tomorrow.
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