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Brian Pohanka
The Western Front:
- Belloy-en-Santerre
- Flaucourt, Bray, Albert
- Y-Sap, Lochnager

- Memorials, Thiepval
- Ulster Tower,
- The Somme
- The Fallen Soldier
- Mametz Wood
- Delville Wood, High

- Newfoundland Park
- Hawthorne Crater
- Arras
- Proyart, Chevauchee
- Mort Homme, Fort

- Verdun



Visit to the Western Front
Part 5: Ulster Tower, Beaumont

Comments by Brian Pohanka - October 26, 1999

This brief sketch was originally posted at a Civil War discussion group site and is reprinted here with the author's permission.

After 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.

red poppy by DLO

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