High Wood 2016 Report
Day One Thursday 14th July 2016
In the early hours of the morning, 2 coaches departed from Whetstone Leicester along with a minibus from Monmouth and a few independent travellers totalling in total 114 members embarked for Albert in France.
The trip was to remember the fallen and the contribution made by the CLCGB in WW1 both by the then CLB and CNAB later to become the CGB.
On route we picked up Terry Hissey as South Mimm’s service station as planned, however we didn’t plan on finding a fuel leak from one of the injectors on one of the buses. Luckily one of the good things about being in the CLCGB is that someone can always get a job done this was not an exception as Paul Matthews being a mechanic, along with the bus driver, they were able to temporally fix the problem so we could continue on our journey down to Dover and onward to Albert.
With the delay at South Mimm’s we just made our scheduled ferry due to the crossing being delayed so all was good.
On board most of us made our way to the back of the ferry to wave goodbye to the White Cliffs of Dover, you couldn’t help but think of how many men would have seen the cliffs and home for the last time as they would never return.
Arriving in France we travelled over 2 hours to the hostel in Albert where we unpacked and settled in.
The coach was still a problem and plans were made to get the coach fixed as with a really tight schedule on Saturday we could not afford a breakdown. Plans were made to use just the one coach on the Friday with the drivers to enable us to still start the service on time at High Wood.
Dinner was at the Corner Pub in Albert, steak burger, mushroom sauce and the trimmings followed by pudding. The atmosphere was lively as everyone was talking about the following day when we would finally after over 2 years of planning we would finally go to High Wood the battle site that 100 years ago to the day seen the Kings Royal Rifles (CLB) go into action with casualties that amounted to 550 out of 880 men.
Day 2 Friday 15th July 2016
London Cemetery High Wood
The day had finally come the day 100 years after the 16th Battalion Kings Royal Rifles (CLB) went into action at High Wood todays CLCGB returned to pay our respects to the 16th KRRC (CLB) and all the members who served and paid the ultimate price in WW1 and to also remember the work of the then Church Nursing & Ambulance Brigade who helped with the wounded, looking after the war widows and raising the moral of the nation with their marching band, possibly the first female marching band ever.
The weather was a little warmer than the weather one hundred years earlier but the sky was the same clear and bright with a slight breeze. It was hard to imagine 100 years ago this was the scene of such carnage and destruction until you looked at the number graves around you. Today the wood is thick with trees and the surrounding land is rich farm land.
The service started with the members marching down the centre of the London Cemetery towards the cross at the end of the cemetery to form a congregation. A drumhead was made in front of the cross followed by the presenting of the colours with the national colour and union jack being draped over the drums.
The service was led by Rev Rosemary Dagger and readings by Alan Carter and Rob Bolton. Jim Elliot and Lilly-Ann Bryan our oldest member and one of the youngest members presented the word of the ode to the fallen taken from the poem for the fallen by Laurence Binyon. The last post was played by Jeff Holder, Steve Macefield and Spencer Greasley.
Wreaths where laid by Terry Hissey, Rob Bolton, Cameron Bonnington and two of our younger members laid a wreath on behalf of the CLCGB Governor Liz Butterfield who was unable to attend due to illness.
The hymn’s in the service reflected the past and present day the last hymn being “Shine Jesus Shine” a nice lively hymn to end on. The brigade hymn was sung, Fight The Good Fight with great gusto.
After the service there was time to reflect and look around the cemetery and a look into High wood which is a mass grave for an estimated 8000 men from both sides.
Act Off Remembrance at London, Delville, Caterpillar Cemetery’s and KRRC memorial
After the service at London cemetery it was time to split up and go to Delville, Caterpillar cemetery’s and the KRRC memorial with some remaining at the London cemetery.
At each of these sites we had buglers and members laying crosses at the graves of brigade members we had identified.
Each member had a profile on the soldier they were to member telling them where they came from, name of mother and farther along with the names of any siblings and their occupation before joining up.
This involved all the young people and some of the not so young.
At each site simultaneously the following happened.
The act of remembrance started with the words:
Let us before God remember those who have given their lives
in the cause of freedom and in the service of others.
- Whistles then gave the signal to lay the crosses
- After lay the crosses
- Each member Stood back too attention & saluted
- They then said the soldier name out loud clear and strong
- The last Post sounded
- 2 minutes’ silence was held
- Reveille sounded
- The Epitaph was said
- The order was given to fall out
The sound of the whistles blowing was haunting which sent a shiver down everyone’s back this was the last sound some men would hear.
After each member saluted the grave I could hear the members saying the soldiers name out loud and mixing together in the air and became one once more just for few brief seconds.
The last post could be heard from London cemetery to Caterpillar to Delville, I was at Caterpillar and the last few notes came floating across the Somme from the direction of London cemetery, perfect I thought perfect.
After the act of remembrance, the atmosphere was one of real reflection, mixed emotions and not without a few tears and must needed hugs for the old and young alike.
We couldn’t but help notice the number of graves that had the words known only unto god, this came as shock to many members and several where KRRC. One NCO asked if we had any more crosses spare to lay on these graves we had a few but not enough so the NCO asked me for my poppy which I removed so that something could be laid on the grave, this for me a moment of real caring and understanding from a young person I knew then that the project was all worthwhile.
Meanwhile at Delville cemetery we met a couple from Leicestershire who were looking for a fallen soldier from their family, they joined in with the act of remembrance alongside us there.
We all meet up again at Delville cemetery and then proceeded with both buses now to Lochnager Crater where we had a picnic and contemplated on the events of the morning all with special moments to talk about.
Rob Bolton gave a talk on the crater and the others that where detonated at the same time at the beginning of the big push in July 1916, apparently there’s one that never went off and nobody knows where is it is, a second never went off this was discovered unfortunately by a farmer on his tractor in 1958.
In the afternoon we had some free time in Albert and had an option to visit the museum which I’m pleased to say all young members took up.
Everyone found this to be an informative visit and it gave us all a greater insight into the life in a WW1 trench.
Dinner again was at the Corner Pub, dinner was mash and a turkey chunks in yes mushroom sauce followed by apple pie and cream for pudding. Happy birthday was sung to someone can’t think who.
I addressed the members and gave my thanks and praise to everyone for their support on the day and the over whelming respect they had all shown on this historical day. They had all been part of a CLCGB historical moment and had showed the real face of young people today disciplined, focused and most of all respectful.
Day 3 16th July 2016
Beaumont Hamel Memorial (Newfoundland Regiment)
The day began with a visit to Beaumont Hamel the site of the loss of so many brigade members from Newfoundland. Wreaths where laid by young members and the last post sounded with a silence. A talk was also given by Terry Hissey & Rob Bolton about the battle at Beaumont Hamel and the part the Newfoundland regiment played.
One of the wreaths was laid alongside the Prince Of Wales wreath which prince Charles had laid on the 1st July.
At this site the trenches can still be seen and walked around, the land still bears the scars of the battle 100 years ago which to me a fitting memorial to the men who fought here.
This was the location of the second service of remembrance with members of the British Legion joining us as well as many members of the public.
The service was recorded by the British Legion and by YouTube feedback to the UK to the National Arboretum near Burton On Trent.
Before the service lead by the band all members marched from the entrance of Thiepval this was a fantastic sight to see coming towards the memorial and met by applause by the public.
After falling out the members again made up the main congregation and the band took up position to the right of the memorial. A drum head was made and the colours presented and again the national and queens colour draped over the drums.
The service again was lead Rev Rosemary Dagger and took the form of the High Wood service but this time 179 names of known members of the CLB who names are recorded on the memorial where read out in no particular order of rank by todays members of all ranks including helpers, this signified the same format as graves where a private could be laid next to a major, they died together they lie together.
As the names were readout the band played softly in the background “Abide with me”.
Each reader went up to the microphone one by one to read the names and I have to say the younger members were fantastic and read the names with such great meaning and care.
The last post was played by Jeff Holder, Steve Macefield and Spencer Greasley.
At the end of the service a little time was spent looking around the memorial and for some of us it was a time to pay our respects to a soldier my family found the name of Private Edwin Bedder from the Leicestershire Regiment and we paid our respects to him.
It was now time to move on to our next destination The Menin Gate, we returned to the coaches changed and had lunch.
The Menin Gate
This was to be our last act of remembrance, before the service at 8pm where the fire brigade as they do every night play the last post we had a little time to have a refreshing drink and a most important visit to a chocolate shop.
Before we went on parade we all had dinner in a restaurant on the main square just down from the gate. This time it was half a chicken and chips followed by desert.
Again after dinner I was asked to say a few words I again congratulated and thanked everyone for the respect again they had shown at Beaumont Hamel and Thiepval.
Again I told them rightly this would be recorded as an historical event and they had made it an historical event but we had one last job to do together. I told them that also tonight the Sea Cadets would be on parade and asked them all who would be the smartest, with much cheering and banging of tables it was clear there would be no contest and so it would be.
Our coach drivers where a real part of the team by now and had worked hard getting us where we needed to be despite only having one coach on the Friday as the other was being repaired.
I asked if it was right and proper to make them honourable members for the night again with great cheering and banging of tables and their names being chanted it was unanimous.
We gave them both High Wood tee-shirts and they agreed to march though the Menin Gate with us their agreement again was meet with great applause.
We returned to the coaches just on a road to the right of the gate to get ready, from the coaches to the tap the band in ranks of 5 and the rest of us in ranks of 3 we marched to and through the Menin Gate counter marching on the town side with the band going through the rest of us. We then counter marched and formed up either side of the band. The colours then (National and Queens) were carried and held inside the Menin gate and dipped during Last Post.
Before the service started Gary Cory read out the names of 12 members know to be remembered on the gate.
The service started as the fire brigade buglers took up position, in the service the band was allowed to play hymn to the fallen, I have to say I have never heard it played so well and the acoustics inside the gate made it sound all the better.
In the service wreaths are laid and we laid the last 2 wreaths in the ceremony by Spencer Greasley and Olivia Stewart.
After the service the parade was fallen out except for the band who marched out of the gate and played for the for the public who I could see people where impressed.
One couple came up to me and said it’s a shame your organisation could not have played the last post as they had been at Thiepval in the morning and thought we played it better. I thanked them for the comments and said I would pass their complements on to the buglers.
The remembrance part of the trip had sadly come to an end.
I have written this report in the hope it gives a feeling of the emotions we all went through but I can’t do the justice to the trip that Sarah Jane Findley from St. Mary’s Hinckley did with her message on social media which I have copied at the bottom of the report.
I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who played a part in the organisation of the trip and everyone who took part in the trip.
I will now end by reporting that all members acted with great respect in honouring those who fought and served in WW1.
Fight The Good Fight
Sarah Jane Findley
Just got home from the most amazing few days in France and Belgium
I've been through every emotion possible on this trip, and every second has been incredible. Standing at memorials of fallen soldiers with tears in my eyes as Last Post echoes across the countryside was something I never thought could provoke such deep emotions. It is almost incomprehensible when you hear nothing but the birds tweeting through the tranquil silence in front of Highwood and its memorial, knowing that just a few years ago it was the scene of so much pain and chaos. At Thiepval and Menin Gate looking through the thousands of names - not just those who are known dead, but the fact that over 72,000 at one had never been found... Not one single piece of them. I couldn't help but be emotional when Hymn to the Fallen was played by our CLCGB Regimental Band, to think that even after all this fighting for freedom, all the deaths, we have learned nothing. Little white butterflies seemed to follow me all weekend, as if the souls of the lost were following our journey. To know that as you're walking through war-scarred land at the Beaumont Hamal memorial, seeing the shape and scale of the trenches running in all directions and trying to imagine how they felt before going over the top to their deaths. And also in the Lochnagar Crater, where huge amounts of explosives were used for very little military gain. Knowing for a fact that beneath you, people are scattered, lost forever, never to have a proper burial, they never came home.
And best of all, I did it with the most wonderful people and amazing friends. I am so proud to be part of the Church Lads' and Church Girls' Brigade.