Just back from a short family holiday in Northern France, near Dieppe. I took the opportunity to make a trip with my son and daughter to the Somme battlefields, where my maternal grandfather is buried. He was not involved in the actions of 1916, but was blown up in a tank in August 1918 during the Allied counter-offensive which crossed the old front line.
I have visited there several times in the past, but this was my first time in around 20 years, and it was impressive to see how some of the major sites – particularly Thiepval and the Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont Hamel – have been maintained and enhanced. The first time I visited my grandfather’s grave, which is near Gommecourt at the northern end of the Somme front line, I was the first person to sign my name in the visitors’ book for more than two years. This time the book was almost too full to add our names, although it had only been in use for a year.
I’ve been obsessed by the First World War for a long time, and it has been the source for several pieces, notably Memorial (1992), whose starting point was the Lutyens designed Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval, and No Man’s Land (2011). At Thiepval, on whose 16 piers there are panels with the names of more than 72,000 soldiers whose bodies could not be found or identified, we managed with difficulty to find the name of George Butterworth, who was killed near Pozières in August 1916.