Tickets to the commemoration have been allocated by a public ballot and originally I was unsuccessful when I applied. David had managed to get a ticket, and originally he had said he didn’t want to go, as he and Georgie had been to the Somme on April 10th, to visit the grave of Harry Davies her great uncle. They had been so moved by the experience that they decided to go to the Somme commemoration. Eventually I received notification that I had been allocated a ‘returned’ ticket and I decided to take Andy Rose as my guest, since we had been on a WW1 trip before. Conveniently he and Lyn were coming down to stay with us that weekend as we were going to celebrate 40 years since we took our ‘A’ levels. David kindly suggested we go in their car and I managed to book Andy into the hotel David was staying in and I booked a room in a hotel about 6 miles away. Albert is the only town near to Theipval memorial, and all the available accommodation had been booked many months before. In this rural area, the nearest hotels that we could find are about thirty miles from Thiepval, however the rooms were fine and eventually we managed to find somewhere to eat. This was a bit of a challenge as in typical style, the French villages were deserted. Eventually we found a pizzeria, and despite our initial misgivings over the plastic table cloth and fact that we were the only people there, we had a good meal and a chance to catch up.
It was an early start in the morning, David picked me up at 6.15 and we were at the park and ride in Albert for 7. The area around the memorial had been secured off, and the only way to get to the commemoration was by the official transport.
There were around 10,000 people at Thiepval, but on the whole the organisation was excellent. There was plenty to eat and drink when we arrived, and the packed lunches that were provided could feed two people.
The whole event was typical of what the British do best – pomp and ceremony. Watching the household cavalry in their bear skin hats and red jackets was very impressive as was the film of the Somme, shown on big screens just before the commemoration started. The audio visual experience was first class, and the dramatic readings of letters and poems was also excellent. However, the two-minute silence was without doubt the highlight of the day when many thousands of red poppies and blue forget-me-nots were released from the top of the monument and fluttered down in the wind.
The organisers had staggered the arrival of the public, but of course everyone needed to leave at the same time, so getting 10,000 people out of a car park and road system that is only designed to take a few thousand at a time was fraught with difficulties and very nearly became chaotic.
It was a great privilege to attend and pay my respects to the fallen, and it was a day I will long remember.