Sunday, June 20, 2010

Somme Valley

The Rambling Roses split today! Only for the day, but we went separate ways. Dear Jude took off with Liz, Graz and Tony. Andy, Jess (daughter of Graz and Andy, living in Sweden while completing a Master's degree in landscape garden design) and I took off for the Somme valley. Can't say much about the shoppers' day, but we three 'Sommers' experienced the whole range of emotions available to we humans. Well, almost.

Here was a day of contrast on a wide scale. While I was keen to visit the grave of my grandfather's older brother, Andy took the opportunity to visit the spot where his grandfather had earned the Victoria Cross. Here's where the contrasts began.

James Henry Rose had barely finished his indentures as a bootmaker's apprentice when he enlisted in the Australian Fifth Battallion and headed overseas. This appears to be an odd thing to do, given that his paternal grandparents were both German (in fact, they had immigrated from Prussia in the early 1850s). His maternal grandparents had immigrated from England. "Jim" had been in France for only a few weeks when he was wounded in the upper body ("thorax") and taken to the British treatment at Puchevillers. He died a few days later of infection from his wounds and was buried in a cemetery to the west of the town. He wad 20 years of age.

Charles Stewart on the other hand, Andy's grandfather, survived the war. He was awarded the Military Cross for leading a group of men up a hill into the firing line of a machine gun post. Not once, but five times! Successfully. The citation for his actions can be read in the official record.

Here we can see two quite differing first-hand experiences of World War One. Private James H Rose, who dies only weeks after arriving at the front, and Lieutenant Charles Stewart who performs extraordinary acts of leadership and survives. The day was one of extreme emotion. I cannot remember having been more moved by the sadness associated with seeing the grave of a relative who had died at such a young age. Jess found Jim's headstone in the first row of them, among the line of soldiers who had died on 20 August 1916. We took a few photos and then I lifted away the blue flowers growing in front of the headstone. The inscription reads:
"In loving memory of our dear son and brother (Jim) Loved by all". If tgat doesn't reduce a person to tears nothing will. And it did.

It has to be said that the cemetery is maintained in an immaculate state. The lawns appeared to have been mown regularly and often. A graet variety of flowers have been planted in front of the headstones and not weed can be seen. The cemetery consists of 25-30 rows of bright white headstones of identical dimensions except for one, which is inexplicably larger. There are about 1,000 graves here, enclosed by a low brick wall. It is located to the west of the town of Puchevillers and sits on it's own, completely surrounded by wheat an cereal crops. It is truly beautiful. We spent quite a time here, wandering around and reading the inscriptions on the stones. There was also a visitor's book that I signed. Someone had left a typed copy of a last letter sent from a British soldier who had died in 1918 to his father. Impossible not to feel the inordinate sadness associated with this tragedy.

We then made for a village near St. Quentin, where Charles Stewart made his amazing contribution to the Allied cause. Whereas Jim Rose had little opportunity to make a hge impact given his brief time at the Front, Charles made a huge impact by taking the initistive to storm a number of machine gun posts, successfully capturing them. We walked I'm the wood ("copse") where the German gun battery that pounded the village stood. We parked the car at the top of the former railway cutting that provided the shelter fir Charkes and his men to run at, and wipe out the machine gun posts. [Andy had copies of documents sent by his father that described these actions.].

After walking around the copse and talking to the lady who owned the former mill where a second German gun emplacement had operated, the three oc us headed 'home' to Paris. The car was quiet for a relatively long time. We were soon back on the motorway, however, battling the Parisienne weekend holiday-makers as they scotched back into ghe city at 130+ kmph. It had been an emotional day, but also quite an uplifting one as well.

Ally emailed to say that her flight from Hong Kong had been delayed by 3 hours. Somehow that didn't appear to be much of a tragedy. I am sure she will make her way to meet up with us tomorrow and the three of us will then be barrelling down the highway for another week in Annecy. Stay tuned, and I'll tell you about that later

So long, it's been good to know you.


Graeme Charles Rose

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