30 November 2017
After two recent visits to Cambrai for ceremonial events, today has been a day for special personal and private visits. As every 10thyear, this day has started with a dawn visit to the shell-cratered field at the north-east edge of Bonavis Ridge, between Masnieres and Rue des Vignes, where my great-uncle was killed. It is so cratered that it is small wonder few survived this ferocious start of the German counter-attack. The 100th year visit, to the day and the hour of the start of the bombardment, is of course a very special moment.
Our next stop was Marcoing British Cemetery on behalf of the community of Rigolet (Newfoundland), to remember William McKenzie and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, who was killed 20 November 1917 at the start of the Battle of Cambrai. It was striking that about half of the graves contain an unknown body – sometimes the regiment or the rank had been discerned. A hint at the ferocity of that encounter.
We followed part of the Cambrai Battlefield self-tour created by Philippe Gorzinski of Hotel Beatus, passing thorough small villages and British Cemeteries and memorials too numerous to list, to Flesquieres. Here we aimed to see both the new Museum for Tank D51 “Deborah”, rescued by Philippe (but alas firmly shut), and the grave of poet Ewart Alan Mackintosh (killed 1 November 1917) – where the wreaths we so recently laid remain in place.
We continued on to Louverval – the Cambrai Memorial to the missing. For me, this is the hardest place to go. It always feels so cold. Whilst perhaps that is emotion, today the weather echoed 100 years ago – and snowed. Today the Tank Regiment wreaths lie on the Altar, and behind them - against the semi-circle of panels of the names of the missing – lie the family crosses and wreaths. My wreath for my great-uncle – Cpl Gilbert Howe Coles – lies there from my recent visit, and is joined by so many more. It was good to see several other families here today, and to find from the Book of Remembrance how many have recently made this journey.
The next leg of our journey was west to Bapaume, a place I knew only from the Great War battles, and had never seen. And thence to Hamel, and the extensive Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial. Here we could see the extensive network of trenches as well as the Memorial and Museum commemorating the Somme battles. Particularly we sought the panel for the missing, so as to leave a remembrance cross for Lance-Corporal John Shiwak on behalf of his great-niece Inez. Like William, John had volunteered with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, and was also killed 20 November 1917.
Having returned with light failing, tomorrow we have further journeys to make – to see EAM’s newly restored Memorial Chapel again, and over to Ors Cemetery for the grave of Wilfred Owen. And perhaps Deborah if we can ...
Linn Phipps, 30 November 2017