To mark the 100th anniversary since the Great War, every year between 2013 and 2018 the Royal Over-Seas League have organised a battlefield tour to France and Belgium to pay tribute to the people who lost their lives.
This year’s tour saw members travel from the muddy trenches of the Somme in 1916 to the horrific sacrifice of the battles of Arras and Cambrai. The first day took the group to the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge. The visit was a perfect way to begin our trip and highlight the sheer sacrifice not just of the men from the UK, but men from all over the British Empire. It was also an honour to be at the site historians attribute to beginning Canada’s Independence, so close to the 150th anniversary.
Day two focused primarily on the Somme and supporting offensives, where members were taken to some of the largest memorials in France including the Thiepval Memorial. Over 57,000 people were made casualties of this battle.
On the third day members advanced into 1917 by examining the battles of Bullecourt, Monchy and Cambrai. Standing in the fields where these trenches used to be, members were told how the British very barely kept a hold of this part of the Hindenburg Line. The highlight of the day was eating lunch whilst sitting in the shadow of the Mark IV tank, Deborah. Only three of her eight crew survived the Battle of Cambrai, and the five fallen soldiers now rest in the memorial down the road.
On the way home, members had a chance to round the tour off with a visit to Wellington Quarry and The Citadel, which focused on the battle of Arras. Exploring the tunnels was an eye-opener, with carvings on the wall from soldiers who were bored waiting to go over the top. The most chilling part was standing at the bottom of one of 57 tunnel exits, where Wilfred Owen’s famous line “I am the enemy you killed, my friend” hovered overhead.