A WW1. Remembrance Trail pilgrimage in France and Belgium
2016 marks the the centenary of the Battle of the Somme So we have come to Nord Pas du Calais and Belgium to follow in the footsteps of our two grandfathers, William Spain ( grandfather to Nicole & Dianne) and John Gladstone McIlwain ( Keith’s grandfather) both of whom served in the Great War during the Battle of the Somme. By coincidence, they were both members of the Australian Army Medical Corps as ambulance bearers during this particularly awful battle of attrition. In addition, Geoff’s father Bill was among the British armed forces who landed at Normandy during WW2 pushing on into Belgium then Germany to liberate Belsen concentration camp.
Keith has had a keen interest in the history of the Great War and led us over three days through the various battle sites in the Somme, Ypres and Fromelles areas. We visited many of the war cemeteries, the monuments and memorials mainly for the allied forces of France, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The enormity of the loss of so many young men seemed incomprehensible at times as we contemplated row after row of graves, name after name on the memorials. Heartbreaking too that so many graves are for ‘ unknown’ soldiers or knowing that so many have never been recovered. The tragedy was all the more difficult to understand as we observed the beautiful countryside today and compared it to the horrific photos of the mud, trenches and the earth blackened by shelling and bombing during the conflict.
The Commonwealth Graves Commission and the governments of France and Belgium have maintained the sites so respectfully. May these places be a permanent reminder of the sacrifices made by the young men and their families and the benefits of living in freedom, peace and harmony. In the words of the memorials
” THEIR NAME LIVETH FOREVER MORE”
Some of the sites we visited included: