Blind veterans visit the battlegrounds of the Somme and Ypres

28 September 2016 17:06

This year marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. To commemorate the occasion, this month a group of blind veterans visited the battlegrounds of the Somme and Ypres, two of the most devastating battles of the First World War.

Battle of the Somme trip

Their trip started at Newfoundland Park, an area of the Somme battleground which is now a memorial named after the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 800 of whom served with the British and Commonwealth Armies. The park serves as a memorial to all Newfoundlanders who fought in the First World War, particularly those with no known grave.

The group then travelled to the Lochnager Crater, a detonated military mine dug beneath a German field fortification known as Schwabenhöhe (Swabian Height). The explosion occurred at 7:28am on 1 July 1916. It created such a noise that some claim it could be heard in London. It remains the largest crater made in conflict.

The veterans were also taken to the Ulster Tower, a memorial to the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division and commemorates all those from Ulster who served in the First World War.

Sometimes referred to as Devil’s Wood, they then visited Deville Wood. It was the location of some of the most ferocious fighting of the battle. The majority of the area was taken by South African soldiers on 15 July 1916. In 1920 South Africa purchased Deville Wood to serve as a memorial to all fallen South African soldiers of the First World War.

Before leaving the Somme, the veterans visited the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. One of the most famous memorials at the Somme, it commemorates the 72,246 British Empire Servicemen who died at the Somme between 1915 and 1918 with no known grave.

In the evening, the veterans joined in with the Last Post ceremony which has taken place at the Menin Gate at the same time every night since 2 July 1928, except for the duration of German occupation in the Second World War. During this time the ceremony took place at the Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, England.

Battle of the Somme trip

Blind veteran, Chris Ottewell said “I have to say that it is a memory that I will never forget, and to have the honour of placing a wreath at the Menin Gate was an emotional experience of some magnitude.”