Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial In France

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This park, located near Beaumont Hamel, is one of only a few sites on the Western Front where the ground remains largely untouched from when the First World War ended. The main entrance to the Newfoundland Memorial Park can be found on the D73 road between Hamel and Auchonvillers. During my last visit, in Autumn 2005, improvements were being made to this road, but it was still passable. The road was known during the Great War as St. John’s Road.

There is more to be seen in and around the village of Beaumont Hamel itself, which is covered by another page on this site. The current page deals exclusively with the Newfoundland Memorial Park.

The area has been maintained because of the significance to Newfoundland; the Newfoundland Regiment, which was part of the 88th Infantry Brigade within the 29th Division, attacked here on the 1st of July 1916, and suffered appalling losses. After the War, Newfoundland purchased this land in 1921, and first it and then the Canadian government (after 1949) have maintained it since as a memorial. It was officially opened in 1925, by Earl Haig. In 1997 it was designated a Canadian National Histgoric Site. The statue of the Caribou  was chosen for the Memorial, as it was the symbol of the Newfoundland Regiment.

There is a great deal to see within the park, including memorials and cemeteries as well as the preserved trench lines. There is also a visitors centre with information on the Newfoundlers and also a shop and toilets.

29th Division Memorial

Just inside the entrance to the Park is the memorial to the 29th Division, raised above the level of the park. The monument was unveiled on the 7th of June 1925, with a guard of honour which included men who had served with the 29th in the Great War. This was the same day as the Park itself was opened.

The 29th Division was in action at Gallipoli, before coming to France in April 1916. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment were a part of this Division, and although on the 1st of July, some troops of the 29th Division did reach the village of Beaumont Hamel, they were forced back. The village was not taken until the 13th of November, when the 51st (Highland) Division succesfully attacked. There is a memorial to that Division on the other side of the Park.

The Newfoundland Caribou: Memorial to the Missing

A little further is the Newfoundland Caribou and the Memorial to the Missing. The caribou was chosen as the symbol for memorials to the Newfoundlanders, and similar statues are also located at a number of other sites on the Western Front where the regiment was in action. The Caribou and memorial here was unveiled by Lord Haig on a beautiful June day in 1925, and J. R. Bennett, the Newfoundland Colonial Secretary, also gave a speech. Lord Haig toured the park, which in those days was little changed from the war, with barbed wire entanglements, shellholes, rifles and other war debris scattered around.

Just in front of the Caribou are the original 1st of July frontline trenches that the Birtish and Newfoundland troops attacked from. Steps lead up to the Caribou, and the vantage point here is an excellent place to look over the battlefield where the Newfoundlers fought on the 1st of July, 1916. The right hand image below is taken from the slightly elevated point on the steps up to Caribou, and gives the view across the Allied trench lines in the foreground, across No Mans Land where the attack on the 1st July 1916 took place (the Newfoundlers were to the right), to the German trenches at the rear of the picture.

The Newfoundland Regiment attacked as part of the second wave, at 9.15 a.m. Within half an hour they had suffered terrible losses, with more than 90% becoming casualties. Set into the stones at the base of the mound on which the caribou stands are three bronze panels listing Newfoundland’s missing. The central panel lists the missing of the Newfoundland regiment, whilst the two smaller panels on either side list the naval and mercantile missing.

Preserved Trenches and the Battlefield

As you walk through the park and past the Caribou, you can see a few silent pickets (to support barbed wire) in the ground. Immediately after the war, there was a great deal of such war material lying around here, and access to most of the Park was permitted. Today, due to the numbers of visitors, access is limited to a few areas, with electric fences to stop visitors straying beyond these.

The advance here was actually downhill – unlike in many other places on the 1st of July 1916 – but there was no cover, and the advancing troops were met by machine-gun fire. About half-way across No Mans Land is the Danger Tree – a preserved tree, thought to be original, which probably marks about the limit of any Newfoundler’s advance that day.

Once again, the distance between the lines and the terrain here can be judged from this spot. The picture below is taken from the Danger Tree, and shows pock-marked land with Y Ravine Cemetery in the distance between the trees.

A little further on is a shallow trenchline, that does not date from the 1st of July attacks, but from over four months later. In November 1916, this trench was created as an advanced line from which troops could more easily reach the German front line and Y Ravine. This attack, on November the 13th, was successful, and the village of Beaumont Hamel itself was also taken that day.

Continuing towards the rear of the Park, the track passes Y Ravine Cemetery and next the original trenches of the German front line of July the 1st are reached. The picture below shows these, and they do appear to be deeper and better made than the Allied front line trench.

Just by this, and near to the 51st Division Memorial, is Y Ravine itself. This is actually a natural feature, but it was used by the Germans and contained dugouts and also tunnels leading up to the German front line. Nearly 5000 prisoners were captured in the advances on Beaumont Hamnel on the 13th of November, with a claimed 400 captured in a regimenal dugout beneath the village. The Germans had dug in, and there were extensive caves and passages beneath the ground here and Y Ravine was a centre of resistance.

Behind Y Ravine is the rear entrance to the Park, and a path leads from here to Beaumont Hamel. This means a visit to Newfoundland Park can be combined with a walk of the area (a good example is the ‘Ancre Valley’ walk in Paul Reed’s Walking the Somme).

Y Ravine Cemetery

Y Ravine Cemetery is located towards the rear of the Park, and can be seen clearly when looking from the Caribou or from the preserved British Front Line trenches.

Sadly, due to thefts, the register for this and the other cemeteries within the Park are no longer available within the cemetery, although they are held at the offices of the Guides at the Park entrance.

Y Ravine Cemetery contains sixty-one special memorials to men known or believed to be buried here, and these are located along the left and right hand walls. The Cemetery was started in Winter 1916, as the battlefield here was cleared, and hence a very large proportion (over a third) of the 400 or so burials are unidentified. However, 38 men from Newfoundland are buried here.

The majority of the burials are in four stright rows (A-D) in the centre of the cemetery. Many of the headstones commemorate two soldiers, and this reflects the fact that this is in effect a mass grave. Some headstones have two names inscribed, but sometimes one of the burials is known and one unknown. If this is the case, the headstone states ‘Two Soldiers of the Great War’, followed by the name of the known soldier, and then the text ‘An Unknown Soldier of the Great War’. On the headstone of Private Charles Taylor, one of the Newfoundlanders who died on the 1st of July, the inscription reads ‘His last words when leaving home were “I have only once to die”‘.

Row E consists of just four graves, located by themselves at the right rear of the cemetery opposite the Cross of Sacrifice.

51st Division Memorial

The 51st Division memorial, towards the rear of the Park is an impressive structure. It takes the form of a rough blocks of Rubislaw granite which were produced by Garden & Co. in Aberdeen, and are assembled in a pyramid form. On the top stands a statue of a kilted Highland soldier, looking east towards the village of Beaumont Haamel which men of the 51st Division took on 13th November 1916. The three panels on the pyramid bear inscriptions in Gaelic, English and French. The Gaelic words can be translated as ‘Friends are good on the day of battle’.

The monument was initially unveiled, following a procession from Beaumont Hamel village to the site, by Marshal Foch in September 1924. He concluded his speech with the words “Sons of Scotland, sleep in peace”.

The memorial was originally dedicated by the Reverend Sinclair, who had been a chaplain with the Division. Pipers played, and the school-children of the area were amoung the crowds. During the Second World War, the Germans planned at one point to remove the statue for the bronze, but in the event they did not. The memorial was rededicated on the 13th of July 1958 and so the front panel now also refers to those who died in the Second as well as the First World War. Two splendid lions flank the memorial.

Directly opposite, and in front of Y ravine, is another memorial to the 51st Division, a simple wooden cross. This originally stood at High Wood, and the inscription reads “This Cross is erected in memory of the Officers, NCOs and men of the 51st Highland Division who fell at High Wood July 1916”. The Division was in action there on the 23rd of July, when the 4th Gordons and 9th Royal Scots between them suffered 450 casualties, and also on the 29th of July (4th Seaforths). Another page on World War One Battlefields deals with High Wood in more detail.

Hunter’s Cemetery

Hunter’s Cemetery is located near to the 51st Highland Division Memorial, and is a very unusual cemetery design. Forty-six soldiers of the 51st Division who fell during the taking of Beaumont Hamel were buried here in a large shellhole, and this is reflected in that the headstones do not stand as grave markers, but are set into a central wall around the Cross of Sacrifice.

The cemetery itself is also circular, whilst all the known casualties (41) buried here except one died on the 13th of November, and all except two are men of the Black Watch (6th and 7th battalions) or Gordon Highlanders. The reason for the name ‘Hunter’s Cemetery’ is no longer known.

Hawthorn Ridge No. 2 Cemetery

This is an open-fronted cemetery with a low wall surrounding the sides and back. It was originally called ‘V Corps No. 12 Cemetery’, as it was made by V Corps in the spring of 1917. There are two or three soldiers commemorated on many of the headstones here, and rooks call from the tall trees nearby.

There are just over 200 graves, around a quarter of which are of unidentified soldiers. The majority of the burials are of men of the 29th Division who fell on the 1st of July, although there are some burials from both earlier and later. A small number of graves were added at the front of the cemetery after the war. There are actually ten graves in total in this later row (Row C), five of which are the graves of Newfoundland men (four unknown and Private William King).

Source: ww1battlefields.co.uk 

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