It is always very special to be on the battlefields for Armistice Day and 2017 was no exception.
To be in a place of such poignancy and atmosphere always adds greatly to one’s own feelings about war, sacrifice and remembrance. It might even seem appropriate that Ovillers greeted us with wind and rain for the start of our procession with Le Maire, M. Christian Bernard, the commune of Ovillers-La-Boisselle, and Friends and other visitors, perhaps it was an appropriate meteorological reminder of the ravages conflict bestows upon people? 60 or more good people followed our usual wreath-laying route from the French War Memorial going first to Ovillers Military Cemetery and then to the Communal Cemetery before walking up to the Breton Calvaire, and then across to La Boisselle and its own village War Memorial.
Our walk through the village again took us to L’Ilot (The Glory Hole) and on to the La Boisselle Communal Cemetery and thence to the Tyneside Seat. The wonderful Vin d’Honneur gave us all time to warm up and chat together in a very convivial atmosphere before going to the Crater for the Ceremony there.
This year we wanted to try and include everyone and make it a personal act of remembrance for all. During the Ceremony we asked three local children to step forward and solemnly place helmets onto metal crosses positioned in front of the wreath-laying area. A French Casque Adrian, a British Brodie helmet, and a German Stahlhelm represented all the combatant nations. The congregation and wreath-layers had been asked to form a half-circle around the crosses and helmets, and wreaths and gerbes were laid whilst poems and prayers were read and spoken. We finished the ceremony with a most moving act where everyone was offered a handful of poppies and cornflowers which were spread over the helmets and crosses.
After the visit to crater 20, or so Friends went on to Mametz Wood where Markus Paulick read a wonderful rendition of Harry Fellows’ poem ‘Reflections on two visits to Mametz Wood – 1916 and 1984’ which he had translated into German. We drank to Harry’s memory and to Mick’s health as he was sadly unable to make it over to France for the visit. We finished our afternoon at Fricourt German Cemetery as dusk and a chill mist drew in. (By Iain-Ross Fry)