Personal Tours and other discussion
I had a tour guide to myself this morning, a great guy called Zac from Sudbury. All the guides at Vimy and Beaumont Hamel are University students on a federal work program. They do a 4 month rotation. Apparently they have a couple of houses that the guides share while living here. When I get back I have to write a letter to support the restoration of the Memorials and the student guide program.
So a couple of items that I didn’t really know. First there is a significant amount of articles that refer to the differences between the German and British approaches on trench warfare. I remember comments about how the British Generals didn’t want the troops improving the trenches as it worked against the intention to move forward and attack. The fortifications at Vimy were large, well developed and appears to have worked to protect troops entering and exiting the line.
Another item was the view of trench warfare as static, men living in squalid conditions for an extended period of time. While this may have been the early conditions on the Somme, by the 1917 battle at Vimy their was regular rotation of troops from the line to the rear areas. Most of the troops were billeted in houses and other shelter in towns like Arras (15km) from the front. They were still subject to artillery while in Arras and machine gun and motar fire on the way to and from the line. This is a very different view that what I had in my head for the war on the western front.
It should be noted that none of these types of well developed fortifications appeared to be in place at Beaumont Hamel for the 1916 battle but that may be the difference in strategy after the initial battles on the Somme.
Lastly, after looking at some of the additional items added to war memorials to ‘adapt’ the message – I had to ask myself what happened in 1940-1944. Once again my guide Zac to the rescue. Since almost all the WWI memorials were completed in the 1920s and 1930s, It occurred to me that if these memorials of the WWI victors was offensive to Germany, they would have destroyed them when France was occupied by Nazi forces in WWII. Zac produced a picture of Hitler touring the Vimy Memorial. Despite the other policies of the Reich, there was a general order that none of the memorials were to be touched. And with the exception of some scrounging of iron from some sites to be sold as scrap because the lack of raw materials.
A last story of was of the 51st Highland memorial at Beaumont Hamel, apparently there was some looting of metal artifacts at the site and a scaffolding was erected to remove the large solider at the top of the monument. When this was observed by a passing allied (RAF) fighter pilot, daily strafing runs were conducted to ‘discourage’ this from happening.
Moral of this story – well the easiest one – go to these places, talk to the guides – what you find is amazing.
Tomorrow, I follow the final battles of the Canadian Army in World War I, with the advance on Canal d’Nord and Cambrai.