Unlike the concreted trenches of Vimy Ridge the Newfoundland Memorial Park a few kilometres from Thiepval has been left much as it was at the end of the war.
The park covers over 80 acres of ground that the Newfoundland Regiment advanced over on the 1st July 1916 — the First Day of the battle of the Somme.
The park is very well signposted from all directions but is probably easiest approached from the Albert – Bapaume Road via Thiepval and the Ulster Tower.
There is plenty of parking space but be warned that this is a very popular point and has thus been known to attract thieves. Do not leave valuables lying in view.
I would highly recommend a visit to the Visitors’ Centre which was opened near the park entrance in July 2001, and gives an excellent overview not only of the battle but also of the community from which these men came.
The guides are students from Canada and are extremely helpful in aiding visitors fully appreciate the history behind the battlefield.
As you enter the park you pass a memorial plaque with verses by John Oxenham asking you to:
“Tread softly here!”
Whilst there are trenches and shell holes to stir the imagination it should be remembered that the park serves as a memorial.
If you look at the tarmac in the car park you will notice that it is marked with the continuation of the trenches which go on to form the park.
The first memorial that you will see is that of the 29th Division with whom the Newfoundland Regiment were serving. The red triangle formed the Divisional Insignia.
Immediately afterwards you come out into the open space of ground that formed the British front line trenches and on into no-man’s land.
Whilst most visitors simply home in on the Caribou monument the area to your right was also an important part of the battlefield encompassing the area across which the 1st Bn Essex Regiment was
trying to advance.
Immediately to your left and raised on a mound is the Caribou Monument to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
Around the base of the monument (one of five on the Western Front) is the Newfoundland Memorial to the Missing.
The three tablets of bronze carry the names of over 800 members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve and the Mercantile Marine, who gave their lives in the First World War and who have no known grave.
Walk up the spiral pathway to the top of the monument and look down and to the right of the park.
In the distance you will see a small cemetery. This is the Y Ravine Cemetery and the target of the Newfoundlanders that morning.
To the left and in the distance you will be able to see the Monument to the 51st (Highland) Division who would take Beaumont-Hamel in the very last days of the Somme in November 1916.
The space in between these points and the Caribou was no-man’s land in 1916 yet many of the casualties suffered by the Newfoundland Regiment had occurred by the time they reached this point having already been exposed to withering fire from the rear trenches back the car park.
The ground remains as cratered today as it was in 1918 and the iron pickets for the barbed wire still remain. The wire itself was removed because of injuries caused to the grazing sheep.
Don’t forget that the Regiment had in fact started from trenches situated out near the main road (They are marked out in the car park) and that the advancing Newfoundlanders got out and walked over the top of the trenches.
From here follow the panels and enter the British trenches. They have been softened by the passing of the years but it is still easy to imagine the moment the whistles started to blow and as you are about to do the soldiers exited the trenches and started to cross no-man’s land.
It is also the moment to remember that the Newfoundlanders were in the second wave, the first of which had already been shattered by the German machine guns.
The German trenches are already clearly visible, and for us, only about a four minute walk away. Considering that as they waded across the shell torn ground the soldiers were carrying in excess of 25 kg of equipment, the crossing — in the face of a hail of bullets — would have taken far longer.
Half way across are the remains of the petrified Danger Tree. This was a highly visible landmark for the German artillery and as the remnants of the British reached it they were met with a hail of shells.
A few more minutes walking brings you to the Y Ravine Cemetery and the resting place of so many of the Newfoundlanders from that July morning.
Just behind the cemetery is the ravine which was being used by the Germans. This can no longer be entered but you can look down into it from further along to the rear of the Highlander’s Memorial.
The cemetery is also the burial ground for many of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division who fought in the area in November 1916.
Further along to your left you come to the Memorial to the 51st (Highland) Division who finally took the area on 13 November 1916 in the fifth phase of the Battle of the Somme.
There is also another small cemetery called the Hunters Cemetery. Unusually round it is sited on a former shell hole. Nobody seems to know the origin of its name.
Finally you reach part of the German front line and the Y Ravine.
Look out for the wooden Celtic Cross which is also a memorial to the men of the 51st (Highland) Division.
If you walk around and to the right you will come to the rear gate and a track down to Beaumont-Hamel. From here you can get some good views into Y Ravine.
As you now walk back towards the park entrance through the wooded glade you will see Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No 2 and through the trees the smaller cemetery of Hawthorn Ridge No 1. Just to the right is an outcrop of trees which marks the site of the Hawthorn mine.
On the 1st July 2006 the Regiment returned to Beaumont-Hamel to take part in the 90th Anniversary Commemorations.