They still hold the trench in which they were killed

BREATHTAKING The magnificent memorial built at Thiepval on the Somme. It has the names of 72,246 missing British and South African names inscribed on its 16 brick piers.
BREATHTAKING The magnificent memorial built at Thiepval on the Somme. It has the names of 72,246 missing British and South African names inscribed on its 16 brick piers.
First World War veteran Frank West, 93, takes the salute at Bishop's Waltham

THIS WEEK IN 1992: Veteran recalls shooting down a Zeppelin

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Today commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme in Picardy, France.

The fighting started at 7.30am on July 1, 1916.

MOVING This is the stone set up at the entrance to the Devonshires Cemetery. In the cross at the top is inscribed: The Devonshires held this trench. The Devonshires hold it still.

MOVING This is the stone set up at the entrance to the Devonshires Cemetery. In the cross at the top is inscribed: The Devonshires held this trench. The Devonshires hold it still.

At the end of that day there were 60,000 British casualties – 19, 240 of them dead.

I have visited the battlefields many times and there are hidden places, even now, where you might think the war finished just a few months ago, such was the devastation from the howitzer field guns.

I took the photographs on this page during my various visits and they reflect some of the devastation wreaked like no man had seen before.

On the right is a photo of the magnificent memorial at Thiepval (pro: Tee-ep-val) designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

TRENCH They were buried where they fell. The cemetery of men from the Devonshire Regiment peaceful today but a century ago this spot was their front line trench from which they attacked the Germans. n Read more about the role of local people in the First World War in our fascinating book Portsmouth and the Great War now available for only �4.75 (inc postage and packing). Discover how Portsmouth raised three battalions to help defend the nation and see if your ancestors were included in the rolls of honour. Call (023) 9262 2752 to order your copy.

TRENCH They were buried where they fell. The cemetery of men from the Devonshire Regiment peaceful today but a century ago this spot was their front line trench from which they attacked the Germans. n Read more about the role of local people in the First World War in our fascinating book Portsmouth and the Great War now available for only �4.75 (inc postage and packing) . Discover how Portsmouth raised three battalions to help defend the nation and see if your ancestors were included in the rolls of honour. Call (023) 9262 2752 to order your copy.

At 140ft high, above the level of its podium, it can be seen from miles around.

It was inaugurated by Edward, Prince of Wales on August 1, 1932.

If there is just one place you must visit in your lifetime, go to Thiepval. It will leave you gasping and not without a tear.

It bears the names of 72,246 British and South African soldiers whose remains were never found. Just imagine that, seventy-two thousand men of whom nothing identifiable was ever found, lives snuffed out in a split second.

And this is just one of the many memorials around the Somme area.

The 7th Devonshires attacked the German front line on the first day of the Somme. It was alongside a wood called Mansel Copse.

Four days later the regiment returned to this location burying their dead – 163 of them – in a section of their old front line trench turning it into a cemetery. Ten graves are unidentified. A stone at the cemetery’s entrance bears the following inscription: ‘The Devonshires held this trench. The Devonshires hold it still.’

To be in this cemetery at sunset on a summer’s evening when the visitors have left and to be all alone with these men is a most moving experience which I cannot put into words.

n Don’t miss an eight-page supplement on the Battle of the Somme in The News tomorrow.