Favourite places Part 1

At the moment we’re all missing being out their on our visits and pilgrimages to the battlefields & surrounding areas of France & Flanders. And I’ll admit this week has really been a struggle with it all mentally with further measures being introduced not only here in my local area but over in France as well as Covid-19 cases continue to rise

If I’m honest I was toying with the idea of not even doing a blog post this week. The only thing that keeps me going is interacting with like minded folks who share a passion for the Great War & who continue to share their images and stories via social media, blogs & websites. There are some really talented people out there whether it be either in writing or photography. But on the flip side of that is that I then long even more to be out there & see with my own eyes

But life goes on and so looking fondly back at better times I thought I would share with you some of my favourite places to visit on the old front line. Some are places I’ve visited many times others maybe the once but it left a long lasting memory

The first on my list is the village of Hardecourt-aux- bois and more specifically the accommodation at Chavasse Ferme which has been the base for many years now on my battlefield visits. Whether it’s just myself & my mate Andy or with my partner Stacey or both Andy & I with our family this for us is the place to stay. A good base I feel is important to any visit which is why I’m featuring this first.( I have no affiliation with or any monetary gain from Chavasse, it’s just my personal recommendation)

View from Chavasse House to Dupres & Coury Houses & beyond the Vallée de Hardecourt (Author own Photo)

Owned by Ex Royal Marines Jonathan & Richard Porter it really does feel like a home from home & a warm welcome always awaits. Richard & Michelle generally live on site and are on hand to answer any questions or provide assistance if needed. Consisting of the original farm house, Chavasse House provides self catering accommodation for upto 12 people in 4 bedrooms. A fully equipped modern kitchen with everything you need and a nice cosy Lounge/ Dining Room with an open fire which is perfect on a cold evening are really welcoming. You’re surrounded by Great War relics and collections which have been accumulated over the years by the Porter brothers

Then in the old stables are Coury & Dupres Houses again with all the amenities you could want including WiFi, Freeview tv, under floor heating as well as again an open fire. They each sleep 4 people in either 2 twin bedrooms or a double and a twin. A private patio area outside each property and a communal bbq next to the rum ration bar for those warm summer evenings adds to the joy of this place. There is also a store house where you can purchase items for the fire, hire bikes or even buy some original Great War relics. Guided tours can also be pre arranged and are usually conducted by Richard, costs vary demanding on your needs. For larger groups Snowden House situated in Longueval is available sleeping upto 16 people in 5 bedrooms. Snowden has its own tragic story from the Second World War when some members of the family who lived there were rounded up by the Gestapo after being betrayed. The cellar was being used by the Resistance with a radio transmitter. Those who were arrested sadly didn’t return and died in Concentration Camps

You’re staying right in the heart of the Battlefields and Hardecourt-aux-bois itself was occupied by the Germans in September 1914 and was an objective of the French on 1st July 1916 however it wasn’t until 15th August that the village was fully captured. Lost again in March 1918 it was retaken by the 9th Royal Fusiliers on 28th August 1918

An evening walk past the church and up the road towards the site of Maltz Horn Farm, looking towards Trones Wood & Guillemont to the east and to the west Maricourt, Montuaban & Bernafay Wood, is essential after dinner. You’ll be rewarded by the most beautiful sunsets

Sunset above Montauban (Authors Own Photo)

Moving across the valley another favourite place is Carnoy & I park up at the entrance of Carnoy Military Cemetery. Originally begun back in August 1915 2nd Kings Own Scottish Borderers & 2nd Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry this cemetery remained in use until March 1917 .Field Ambulances moved into the area near here before the Somme Offensive & a camp was also established nearby. In German hands from March 1918 until August several burials were made just inside the entrance of both British & German dead and also a German cemetery was made by the side of the existing one. All these graves would be removed in 1924

Carnoy Military Cemetery (Authors Own Photo)

Here amongst others you’ll find buried Captain Wilfred Percy ‘Billy’ Nevill who on 1st July 1916 had bought 2 footballs to be kicked across no man’s land as his battalion 8th East Surrey Regiment, part of 18th Division, launched their part of the attack on Montauban. Captain Neville was actually attached to the East Surreys shortly after attestation & therefore his headstone bears the regimental badge of the 1st East Yorkshire Regiment. Leading B company across no man’s land reports suggest he made it to the German wire and was killed as he was about to throw a grenade. He was 21 years old

This cemetery will feature in a later Cemetery Focus with some more stories of those who rest here. So for now we wander up the road towards the village itself. Some very friendly locals live in the house on the left with a cute dog so if they’re in their garden please do take the time to say hello as you’re passing. Turn right as you reach the road junction and then head up the hill past the large barking dogs that always seem to be out. On reaching the village war memorial turn right. Dedicated to those from Carnoy who died in both world wars as well as those who died were deported and died in Nazi Concentration camps. Past the Mairie & Church you’ll eventually come to a track which is the original railway line which ran through here and beyond into Talus Bois. This is a great walk and will take you to Talus Bois as you walk along what was actually known as Rail Avenue Trench

Rail Avenue Trench looking towards Talus Bois (Authors Own Photo)

The area to your right is where 30th Division 21st Brigade consisting of 18th Kings Liverpool & 19th Manchester’s supported by 2nd Green Howards & 2nd Wiltshires in reserve would be on 1st July ready to go over the top. One hour after this initial assault, 90th brigade with the Manchester Pals of the 16th & 17th bn with 2nd Royal Fusiliers in support as well as companies of 18th Manchester’s at the nearby Cambridge Copse would occupy these same fields and launch their attack towards Montauban. It’s a wonderful walk up there to where the old lines including Vernon Street trench & cemetery were and as you go further over the crest to where the German front line of Silesia Trench was located. Some splendid views of the objective of Montauban can be seen with Germans Wood & Machine Gun Wood off to your right

But we continue along the track towards the left of the Talus Bois till the track veers to the left and up the hill. Now we’re in the British front line of 18th (Eastern) Division with 55th Brigade 8th East Surreys area reached first followed by 7th Queens & towards the Carnoy craters 7th Buffs areas

Standing on this site where so much death,destruction, gallant acts & sacrifice took place is very atmospheric. Yet these days it is so peaceful with just the birdsong heard in the skies above and a gentle breeze blowing across the ridge. It’s hard for us to imagine the scenes that day but you get a superb vista of the land and the scale of how much the men had to advance on that fateful day

As we near the end of the track you can see the site of the Carnoy Craters on your right overlooked by a couple of trees close to the Carnoy-Montuaban Road. Here we will turn left and head back towards Carnoy village but if you went right a wonderful walk into Montauban then down towards Maricourt can be made. I can’t recommend highly enough the book Walking the Somme by Paul Reed as a companion. Paul features a walk starting where we did at the cemetery in Carnoy and the book contains alot more information & stories for you to study. The excellent book Zero Hour Z Day by Jonathan Porter which has outstanding maps,aerial photos, analysis & stories of those involved is a must for this area but you’ll certainly struggle to carry this with you on your walk that’s for sure!

Site of Carnoy Craters near the trees with Montauban on the horizon (Authors Own Photo)

Just before we turn down the road look directly across and this was the positions of 53rd Brigade with the 8th Norfolks, 6th Royal Berkshires & beyond to 54th Brigade with 7th Bedfords & 11th Royal Fusiliers amongst others. A livens projector was also used on 1st July just across the road here

I’ve just touched on this area and I’d urge you to get those trench maps out or use Google maps to follow the route yourself and get yourself the aforementioned books or search out others. Also Tim Bell has an excellent blog on the 17th Manchester’s which is definitely worth a read

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