It was a bright and early start as we travelled into France for our day at the Somme. We travelled down the Roman road which separates the Northern and Southern sectors. The Somme has an important legacy for the 36th Ulster division, as they were the only division to achieve their objective on July 1st 1916. They captured the German stronghold known as the Schwabben Redoubt. We started our tour at the Lochnagar crater, this was the place that the Tyneside Irish and Scottish 34th Division fought at the start of July. We also looked at the Hearts FC pals memorial, the first Pals Football Battalion to join up as the 16th Royal Scots.
At Guillemont church we looked at the 16th Irish Cross and paid our respects to Holland and Hughes, two VC winners. British PM Herbert Asquith's son was also buried at Guillemont road cemetery highlighting the impact of WW1 throughout all levels of society.
We then moved on to the Thiepval memorial, it is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world, 72,000 missing soldiers names are engraved on it. After a service of commemeration, we moved across to the Connaught cemetery in the shadow of the Ulster Tower to hear about the first day of the Somme. Helen's Tower pays homage to the Clandeboye estate training venue in Bangor that was used during war preparations.
We had an opportunity to go into Thiepval Wood to see the trenches that the 36th division were in. We heard many famous stories about men like Leslie Bell from Moneymore and Sam Scott and Henry Crozier from West Belfast. The tour of the wood finished appropriately at the trench where Billy McFadzean won his VC. On our penultimate stop we went to Newfoundland Park, this was created to honour Newfoundland's sacrifice during WW1.
A great day came to a close at the graveside of Willie McBride, made famous by the folk song, "The Green Fields of France".