Thiepval Memorial – Reflections

Thiepval Memorial

Thiepval Memorial

Rising above the rolling hills of the Somme and Ancre valleys is a ridge of chalk escarpment dominated by this grand memorial.  I find it remarkable to see the multitude of names of men; some of whom I recognise from my historic journeys with the 17th Battalion Manchester  Regiment.

I feel sadness when I see the inscriptions of Kenneth Macardle, Ralph Miller, Mark Jackeso and many other Pals.  We can only imagine the sense of loss when surviving veterans visited the Memorial in post war years.  They would have known many men in their Battalions and the grief must have been tangible.

This photo was taken in June 2014 when we had the privilege to hear the Last Post played by a lone bugler in the centre of the Memorial.  This was moving experience and must be credited to Help for Heroes – UK Military Charity who held a ceremony during the bike ride to Paris.  The party also included a piper and pedaling Padre.   Here’s what it sounded like from an earlier ceremony.

Families who lost sons and brothers on the Somme will have had no closure without a grave to focus their grief.  Thiepval has a magnificence that delivers it’s function to have helped deliver a place for nations, family, comrades and friends to remember the men who died on the Somme and have no known resting place.

Here’s an illustration of the names of the Officers from the 17th Manchesters who are commemorated at Thiepval. Click to enlarge.

13A Thiepval 17th Bttn Officer CasualtiesCommonwealth War Grave Commission records 230 men of the 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment on the Memorial.

CWGC provides a great synopsis on their site:-

http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/80800/THIEPVAL%20MEMORIAL

Location Information

The Thiepval Memorial will be found on the D73, next to the village of Thiepval, off the main Bapaume to Albert road (D929).

Each year a major ceremony is held at the memorial on 1 July.

Visiting Information

Major renovation works will start this summer 2013. Panels replacement will be launched till this autumn.

The Panel numbers (or Pier and Face) quoted at the end of each entry relate to the panels dedicated to the Regiment served with. In some instances where a casualty is recorded as attached to another Regiment, his name may alternatively appear within their Regimental Panel (or Pier and Face). Please refer to the on-site Memorial Register Introduction to determine the alternative panel numbers (or Pier and Face) if you do not find the name within the quoted Panels (or Pier and Face).

Historical Information

On 1 July 1916, supported by a French attack to the south, thirteen divisions of Commonwealth forces launched an offensive on a line from north of Gommecourt to Maricourt. Despite a preliminary bombardment lasting seven days, the German defences were barely touched and the attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance. Losses were catastrophic and with only minimal advances on the southern flank, the initial attack was a failure. In the following weeks, huge resources of manpower and equipment were deployed in an attempt to exploit the modest successes of the first day. However, the German Army resisted tenaciously and repeated attacks and counter attacks meant a major battle for every village, copse and farmhouse gained. At the end of September, Thiepval was finally captured. The village had been an original objective of 1 July. Attacks north and east continued throughout October and into November in increasingly difficult weather conditions. The Battle of the Somme finally ended on 18 November with the onset of winter.

In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916. The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial.

A windy autumn evening at Thiepval

A windy autumn evening at Thiepval

The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 1 August 1932 (originally scheduled for 16 May but due to the death of French President Doumer the ceremony was postponed until August).  Film of events at the unveiling can be found at THEIR NAMES CUT DEEP & CLEAR! Thiepval – British Pathé

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9 thoughts on “Thiepval Memorial – Reflections

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