Bilko’s WW1 pilgrimage by Lambretta Part 3 | FEATURE
Robert ‘Bilko’ Shaw from Northern Ireland rode his Lambretta to the Somme to retrace the regiments of WW1.
This episode concerns his time in France before the epic saga of his return to Britain begins.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the battlefield visits as it may not be of interest to some of you, but I’ll just go through the basics of what I did over the next three days. The Lambretta was left at the Hotel while my brother drove me around the battlefields.
Each cemetery tells a story about what happened and they have a plaque with reference to those buried there and reference to the fighting that went on in the area. The graves within the cemetery will also tell a story. For example you will sometimes find German soldiers buried alongside Commonwealth soldiers. Germany have their own cemeteries, but these may have been prisoners who died of injuries sustained in fighting. They also tell you the time line of certain battles when you will see dates of the fallen across a certain time scale.
Friday 7th July
After a good sleep it was an early start. Up at 7 O’clock each morning and leaving after 8 O’clock to start the visits to the battlefields with my brother who, as I’ve mentioned before, has been researching World War One since the late 1970s including countless visits to cemeteries, interviews with veterans and their families over the decades.
Today, my brother took me to a number of different sites, from cemeteries to historical points of reference across The Somme, including London Cemetery at High Wood, Gordon Dump Cemetery, a couple of old German bunkers, Guards Cemetery, Delville Wood Cemetery & Memorial, Favreuil Cemetery, Upton Wood Cemetery & Dury Mill Cemetery.
Saturday 8th July
Day two saw us Joining up with The Genesta Battlefield Group for a visit to Belgium and Ploegsteert Wood and the cemeteries of Prowse Point, Rifle House and Oosttaverne wood. At Ploegsteert Military Cemetery, my brother and Mary Freeman gave a talk at the wood about a soldier. Private Griffin who was buried by his younger brother, both men were orphans and so making the loss ever more deeper.
After we left the wood, we then popped into the beautiful town of Ypres and collected a beer supply. Then a short drive onto wytschaete Cemetery, Irish House Cemetery, Birr Cross Roads Cemetery and the front line on the Menin Road where The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had attacked the German Front Line. Last stop in Belgium was New Brandhoek Cemetery before we headed back to Cambrai.
Sunday 9th July
My last full day at Cambrai which saw more visits to various points around The Somme. Nine places this time. Including one of my favourites The Devonshire’s Cemetery at Mansell Copse, Memetz. We visited Ribecourt Cemetery, Fins Cemetery, Mouquet Farm, Thiepval, Mill Road, Redan Ridge, Carnoy Cemetery and finally Mansell Copse Cemetery.
Sunday night my brother and I were invited to the hotel Beatus where the Genesta Battlefield Club were staying for dinner and drinks, lots of drinks.
After my trip over there last year I felt I would be better prepared for where and what I was witnessing. This was partly true. I did have a better idea of my bearings, which side was the British line and where the German lines were. The thing I wasn’t prepared for was the emotion I would feel each time I walked through a cemetery or battlefield. It was as if I was mourning my own flesh and blood. My Grandfather served at a number of different places in France and Belgium. I was shown by my Brother the very spots my Grandfather was at Bourlon Wood, where he was injured. This was very emotional, but he survived the war.
When you look across the sweeping fields with the only sound being birds chirping it’s almost impossible to think of what happened, what it looked like, what it felt like. For the most part we live a good life. Watch some footage, read some books and look at photographs from World War One, Then visit these battlefields. I can almost assure you that you’ll never think the same way about life again.
Even if you aren’t into World War One, or you don’t support war and what it does. You could do a lot worse than visit these places where so many lives were lost. It truly does give you a closer and better understanding of the cost of World War One. I feel very privileged to have been able to visit this sacred soil and as long as I’m able to, I’ll keep coming back.
Martin Hyland left this message on my trip to The Somme. It’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.
“Trials and tribulations are what memories are made off. Your problems pale into significance compared to the bravery of those your trip was meant to honour. Harry Bloor will be looking down applauding your efforts.”
The artefacts I brought back (apart from the shell) are pieces I found on the battlefields of The Somme, with two pieces coming from No Mans Land at Serre Road.
If you’re interested in making your own trip to the battlefields and cemeteries it’s best to do some research before you go. For a vast amount of resources on cemeteries and soldiers visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Bilko will be back on his scooter in part 4….
Friday 7th July
Saturday 8th July
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