With the fast transport system, from England to France and Belgium, it is now so easy to visit the battlefields of The Western Front from World War One.
Nevertheless, it is also easy to forget that so many Commonwealth Countries sent soldiers who fought there, even today it is not always easy for their relatives to travel and visit the battlefields where their forefathers could be found fighting along the British Tommy.
I found this recently with Bill Wicks. Bill is from New Zealand and he wanted to visit the Somme to find both his Grandfather’s name on the New Zealand Memorial and if possible to find the place he went missing in the latter days of the Somme campaign, an era when the tank was used as a weapon of war for the first time.
With a little research, I found the location of the trenches where his grandfather died and found his name on the memorial to the missing. With two full days of battlefield touring and exploring planned Bill made his way over to Paris then caught a train and joined me on The Somme.
We initially covered The First Day on The Somme, 1 July 1916, and then in detail the actions of his Grandfather’s brigade as we walked the trench line where his grandfather was lost. His Grandfather was Sgt H J Wicks of the 3rd Battalion New Zealand Rifle Brigade and a former Royal Marine.
‘I have just returned from Europe and wanted to get in touch. The two days with you Matt on the Somme was the highlight of my European trip, and I intend to come back to do the full tour. Thanks for a great time, it was very memorable plus I really enjoyed your company. Having seen the battlefield, the books I read about it now have more meaning and they all make so much more sense’. This was a follow-up email I received from Bill.
For myself a lasting memory of the battlefield tour will be when Bill took a rubbing, in the same style as a brass rubbing, of his grandfather’s name from the wall of remembrance; as he gently rolled up the paper he said. ‘ … come on Granddad time to take you home’
It was a very fitting tribute and a moving moment for both Bill and myself.
Footnote: I was delighted to stay in touch with Bill after his return to New Zealand and to hear that he has now published a book, A Long Way to Come to Die, based on his grandfather’s experience of World War One – Read the full story here