As I flip my bicycle off the D938 and disappear into the woods at Acheux-en-Amiénois, the arrow-straight street is empty of automobiles because it cuts throughout the Somme.
I’ve travelled greater than 400 miles throughout land and sea to go to these woods in northern France on a journey to find out what occurred to my great-grandfather’s brother, who by no means returned residence from the First World Warfare.
And as I push into the cover of timber, I’m lastly following in the footsteps of a person with my blood in his veins who final walked via right here a century in the past.
George Grindley was a 31-year-old dad from Manchester with brown hair and gray eyes who lived together with his spouse, Pollie, and their daughters Alice and Elizabeth in a terraced home overshadowed by the armaments manufacturing unit the place he labored as an engineer’s labourer.
However in the autumn of 1916, he left his household and the smokestacks of our shared house metropolis behind and crossed the gray waters of the English Channel to struggle in a struggle that had already ended the lives of tens of hundreds of males.
It was inside these obscure woods that he joined his already battle-scarred unit, the 2nd Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment, as they camped in solely relative security a couple of miles behind the frontline.
- 1 Learn extra Armistice tales
- 2 ‘A very pretty sight’
- 3 On the street to Thiepval
- 4 ‘It feels like a family reunion’
- 5 ‘I was frightened to death’
- 6 ‘These men were more than grey faces’
- 7 A journey down Fortunate Approach
- 8 ‘We were digging in the garden and found the bodies of five Germans’
- 9 ‘To love and then to part is the saddest story of a mother’s coronary heart’
- 10 The street to Bouzincourt
- 11 ‘We are carrying this on for the families’
- 12 George Grindley: A soldier’s story
Learn extra Armistice tales
George and a trainload of different new recruits have been getting into the hobnailed boots of lifeless males in a battalion that had lost 29 officers and different ranks in the trenches solely days earlier.
“George and the other recruits were replacing dead friends of these men. They knew what he was about to face – that he might not be alive for much longer,” Max Dutton, a historian at the Commonwealth Struggle Graves Fee, had informed me earlier than I set off.
“But there would have been familiarity too. These men all spoke the same Lancashire accents and would have known the same places back home, so it wouldn’t have been hard for them to start getting along.”
By learning the army service data of those troopers, I’ve come to know them by identify and am even privy to a few of their secrets and techniques. In the event that they have been to magically reappear between these timber, I might recognise a few of them from previous pictures.
Ruddy-faced Albert Bland lived on the fringe of considered one of Manchester’s most infamous slums and his enlistment papers had been signed by his native vicar. Albert Alty, who like George was simply 5ft 5in, had survived a gunshot wound whereas preventing at Thiepval.
South Lancashire troopers at relaxation. (Photograph: Photograph www.ww1photos.org))
Edward Burgess, who was simply 20 and appeared like a boy in a person’s uniform, was handed match by the regimental medical officer regardless of affected by a hernia. John Creaghan, an single collier, was apprehensive about whether or not his woman, Annie Banks, would obtain his pension if he died.
The others included Thomas Hough, who had lost his lance corporal’s stripe after disobeying an order, and George Gillsbanks, a 38-year-old father-of-four, who was in a subject hospital affected by shellshock earlier than later being despatched again to the line.
As I experience alongside a slender filth monitor that pulls me deeper into these silent woods, I start to marvel about these first conversations Personal Grindley may need had together with his new comrades.
Data present he was already an skilled soldier and had beforehand served with the Dragoon Guards in India and South Africa.
However, given what these males had simply been by way of, he maybe spoke solely to present them a photograph of Pollie or inform them about his youngest daughter, Elizabeth, who was simply three-months-old.
Army maps present how these woods, which had a railway line operating alongside their japanese flank, have been a two-day march from frontline trenches drawn in blood purple ink by British cartographers.
The timber provided no safety from scorching metal and one German long-range shell landed in the woods on the day George arrived and solely narrowly missed the battalion’s huts. The maps recommend the woods had been decreased to scrubland by 1918.
Paths that are quiet now have been a hive of exercise again then, with pictures held by the Imperial Warfare Museum displaying troopers with rolled-up sleeves butchering carcases of meat and loading bombs onto wagons.
Acheux. (Photograph: Dean Kirby)
“We are at present in camp in a wood just behind the line with occasional ‘Hymns of hate’ coming across from Fritz,” a Second Lieutenant named Harold Cottrell wrote in the letter to his father.
“The noise is terrific, and the sky is lit up with the flashes of shells and weapons, principally our aspect, and I anticipate it’s fairly terrible for the Hun.
“We are going up into our trenches in a day or two now and I expect we shall be in the next push, however, don’t worry as it is quite a simple thing now.”
‘A very pretty sight’
One other soldier from one other battalion wrote about how the huts right here have been house to rats and the way the males’s fires amongst the timber have been “a very pretty sight”.
Biking on in dappled daylight, I move a line of tall beech timber that would have been right here in 1916. In the centre of the woods stands a clearing washed by sensible sunshine, which I think about might have been the location of the troopers’ camp.
I climb off my bike and am nearly to step out of the shadows when the silence is cracked by three gunshots – a searching social gathering someplace amongst the timber.
I stand frozen stiff, hardly respiration and watching the far aspect of the clearing like a fox, anticipating a line of armed males to come into the open.
How might I clarify my presence right here? The thought crosses my thoughts that I could also be trespassing. I instantly really feel very alone and lots of miles from my spouse and son again house in Manchester.
Maybe, I’m wondering as I pedal shortly again to the street with out wanting over my shoulder, that is how my relative George Grindley was feeling as he marched out of those woods in the direction of the trenches of the Somme a century in the past.
On the street to Thiepval. (Photograph: Dean Kirby)
On the street to Thiepval
The street to Thiepval crosses the River Ancre beneath an avenue of tall timber at Aveluy and takes a pointy left at Crucifix Nook – the previous gateway to British trenches named after Lancashire cities together with Blackpool and Chorley.
From there, the route leads uphill via the village of Authuille and continues upwards previous farmers’ fields edged by blood pink poppies which might be so small and remoted they seem weak in the afternoon solar.
I’m out of breath and starting to wrestle as I cycle alongside the previous frontline on my journey to find out what occurred to my great-grandfather’s brother George Grindley in the Battle of the Somme.
However then I lookup and see the large bulk of Thiepval Memorial, which was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate greater than 72,000 British and South African males who died in these fields and haven’t any recognized graves.
These battalions of males are out right here someplace – minimize down by machine weapons or blown aside by shells in these fields that rise in the direction of the excessive floor that was held in the iron grip of the Germans.
I find the memorial unexpectedly full of members of the Royal British Legion who’re marking the 90th anniversary of the nice 1928 battlefields pilgrimage by survivors of the conflict.
Thiepval. (Photograph: Dean Kirby)
The guests, lots of them veterans of newer conflicts, are laying wreaths and looking for kinfolk amongst the hundreds of names etched on the 140ft memorial’s big columns of Accrington brick confronted with Portland stone.
‘It feels like a family reunion’
Stephen Lingard, a battlefield information from St Helens, is wanting up at the identify of his great-great-grandfather William Molyneux, a lance corporal in the South Lancashire Regiment, who was killed aged 39 on eight September 1916.
“Every time I come back to see William’s name, it feels like a family reunion,” Mr Lingard says. “Lots of the guests right here right now have seen motion. Once they come right here they fall silent. There’s a way of reverence and launch.
“Something happens to you here. You get close to people who died a century ago – people you never met.”
I reluctantly depart the memorial and the names of 621 lacking South Lancashire males behind me and set off for Mouquet Farm, the place George Grindley first noticed motion in September 1916.
The unique Mucky Farm, because it was recognized to British troopers, was obliterated by artillery hearth and the farmhouse and barns that now stand on rising floor surrounded by fields east of Thiepval have been constructed after the conflict.
Preventing round this central bastion of the German defences had value 6,300 Australian lives as they clawed their means up the slopes beneath heavy artillery hearth. The our bodies of lots of them have been by no means discovered.
It was solely taken on 26 September when 66 Germans emerged from deep cellars and surrendered.
The Somme. (Graphic: Nick Coles)
Sitting close to an Australian warfare memorial in a scape of floor which will have as soon as been a shell gap, I look throughout at the farm and take into consideration George, who was despatched to defend this nightmarish panorama after it was captured.
In heavy rain, he was instantly hit by what the battalion struggle diary described as a “very heavy shelling” that churned the dwelling our bodies of wounded males into the sewer-like mud.
Amongst the first to die was Second Lieutenant Harold Cottrell, aged simply 18, whose grave down the street at Pozières reads: “A boy, he died for England.”
“We are going to take a certain bit of Hun trench, but… I don’t suppose it will be very difficult,” he had written residence to his mom, Agnes.
The hell continued into Sunday, when considered one of the battalion’s trenches, which have been little greater than strains of related shell holes, suffered a direct hit. On Monday, the battalion conflict diary reported that the line has been “reduced to chaos”.
‘I was frightened to death’
One man wrote house: “It was just as if an earthquake had occurred. It was all mud and I was frightened to death.”
The lifeless together with one man who face was half blown away by shrapnell have been buried the place they fell in shallow graves that have been by no means discovered once more.
Amongst them was Leonard Greenwood, a 24-year-old store assistant from Salford, who was buried someplace close to the path main to the farm.
Ration events who have been despatched to the rear to gather meals have been gone for 24 hours earlier than they returned exhausted after pushing by way of trenches crammed with British and German lifeless.
Fortunately for George, a plan to ship the battalion over the prime was cancelled at the final minute.
When the males lastly withdrew beneath the cowl of dusk the following Friday, 16 of their associates had died, 26 have been wounded and three have been lacking – the value in Lancashire lives of occupying Mouquet Farm for one week.
“All ranks showed obvious signs of the severe strain they had been subjected to during this tour in the trenches which had been a very harassing time,” the warfare diary says.
Mouquet Farm at the moment. (Photograph: Dean Kirby)
Service data reveal what occurred to a few of these males.
Thomas Robinson, a 24-year-old father of three, was evacuated to a hospital in Boulogne the place he died from a head wound. Amongst his private possessions despatched residence to his widow, Edna, have been his false tooth.
The daddy of Stanley Thomas was nonetheless making an attempt to find out what had occurred to his lacking son the following March, when he was lastly declared lifeless after a search of army hospitals.
However the saddest story of all is that of Arthur Wilson, whose identify is now etched on Thiepval Memorial.
Arthur, considered one of 5 youngsters from a poor household, had lied about his age when he joined up aged 16 and had later tried to depart – stealing a bicycle and serving two months in a British jail in a determined bid to be dismissed.
However the Military had introduced him to France after his father, Frank, had informed a police officer that becoming a member of the forces was “entirely Arthur’s own doing” and he would solely “get careless and be a burden to them” if he returned residence.
‘These men were more than grey faces’
A heat wind has risen from nowhere and had begun to shake the timber round Mouquet Farm as I put together to depart – an indication of approaching dangerous climate.
It snaps at the miniature flags and toy koala bears fixed to the Australian memorial and the handwritten message from the far aspect of the world, which says: “Our family has not forgotten and still loves you.”
“The men who were here were more than grey faces you see in photographs. They were real people who suffered horribly here. It was a bloodbath,” says David Pearson, a 59-year-old Australian who pulls up in a automotive as I’m pointing my bike again in the direction of Thiepval.
“Mind how you go,” he provides as he seems to be in the direction of a darkening sky. “We’re going to get a storm.”
The view from Fortunate Method. (Photograph: Dean Kirby)
A journey down Fortunate Approach
The sky is popping black with approaching thunderclouds as I roll my bicycle down the street recognized to British Tommies as Fortunate Approach and minimize by means of the previous frontline with growing nervousness.
Dud bombs unearthed by native farmers are typically left at the nook the place a sunken monitor factors like a gnarled finger to the subject the place my great-grandfather’s brother, George Grindley, was fatally wounded on 21 October 1916.
Many farmyards round right here include a set of wartime scrap – le tas de ferraille – and other people nonetheless sometimes endure life-changing accidents whereas choosing up unexploded shells which rise from the Somme mud after winter frosts.
Earlier at the Blighty Tea Room in La Boisselle, a gathering level for off-duty British battlefield guides, the proprietor Jon Haslock had proven me a few of the weapons he discovered whereas renovating his former farmstead.
Leaning towards the wall stood a line of disarmed bombs and a used fuel shell alongside the headstone of a German soldier, Musketier Eggerstedt, which had been present in a compost heap.
‘We were digging in the garden and found the bodies of five Germans’
“Even a century on, the effects of the war can be seen all around us,” Mr Haslock had stated. “We were digging a hole for a septic tank in the garden and found the bodies of five German soldiers. It’s just part of the life here. When you’re walking in the fields, you can still see the lines of trenches in the way the crops grow.”
With one eye fastened on the climate, I change gears and pedal arduous up the sunken monitor referred to as the Stump Street, which as soon as crawled with German machine gun nests ready for Personal Grindley to come marching down the hill in the direction of them.
I’ve to carry my bike up a flight of concrete steps and stroll it alongside a grass hall lined with corn crops as tall as a person. They make unsettling noises – a sound like scurrying rats – as they twitch in the wind.
And now, right here I’m, pulling my bike throughout the sunbaked furrows of the ploughed subject the place a person with my DNA suffered a devastating damage at the tail finish of the Battle of the Somme.
The 2nd South Lancashire Regiment in France. (Photograph: (Photograph Lancashire Infantry Museum)
George had recognized the assault was being deliberate – the worry of dying constructing slowly for days prematurely.
His battalion, the 2nd South Lancashires, had practiced attacking strains of white tape in the rear and a field of Lewis weapons had arrived earlier than they moved to the entrance in heavy rain via rotting piles of lifeless Germans nonetheless sporting fuel masks.
As daybreak broke on 21 October, the battalion was ready uneasily simply out of sight at the prime of this slope in a former German stronghold often known as Stuff Redoubt after a sleepless night time of incoming shellfire and a biting frost that encrusted the mud.
Then, at precisely 12.06pm, whistles blew alongside the line they usually poured over the prime in waves of half corporations and commenced their downhill assault on the troops of the fifth Ersatz Division.
“The spirit of all ranks was wonderful and the men went over the parapet in fine style,” the battalion struggle diary stated.
I shut my eyes and check out to think about the Lancashire males approaching. A few of them are going too quick and are dying beneath the creeping barrage of shells from 200 heavy British weapons designed to shield them.
Others are scuttling down the Stump Street – hurling bombs and firing Lewis weapons as they destroy and seize the enemy machine weapons.
And right here I stand, half approach down the similar sloping area, caught in a wierd no man’s land between the previous and the future – a century too late to save George from the destiny that was about to befall him.
The sector. (Photograph: Dean Kirby)
Someplace proper right here, in a maelstrom of whizzing bullets and burning fragments of shrapnel, he has fallen closely to the floor with a devastating wound 400 miles from Manchester and his spouse and two daughters.
It’s unattainable, even standing right here now, to absolutely think about the horrific scenes that should have unfolded on that chilly autumn afternoon.
However there are clues in the small Commonwealth Warfare Graves Fee cemetery that appears up from the centre of this remoted subject in the direction of the heavy skies above Stump Redoubt.
Amongst the 391 graves – greater than 1 / 4 them unidentified – lie 25 of George’s comrades together with 20-year-old Edward Burgess, whose gravestone reveals one thing of the heartbreak felt again house.
“To have, to love and then to part is the saddest story of a mother’s heart,” it says.
‘To love and then to part is the saddest story of a mother’s coronary heart’
However the man I’m looking for shouldn’t be right here.
I’m nonetheless taking a look at the graves when the entire world appears out of the blue to draw a deep breath and fall silent. Then an enormous clap of thunder shakes me to the bone.
In a state of panic, with the air seemingly charged with static, I’ve no selection however to run with my bike bumping throughout the ploughed area and cycle as quick as I can down the uneven floor of the Stump Street to Fortunate Method.
I hope the street lives up to its identify as 4 French cyclists swoop previous with a pleasant greeting and disappear over hill into the looming darkness as one other clap of thunder rumbles overhead.
Grandcourt Street cemetery. (Photograph: CWGC)
The street to Bouzincourt
Black storm clouds are giving chase as I experience my bicycle at velocity throughout the Somme.
I reduce an remoted determine as I comply with the monitor chopping by way of swathes of farmland the place, a century in the past, my great-grandfather’s brother was being taken for emergency medical remedy.
On 21 October 1916, George Grindley was discovered alive with a savage wound close to the trench he was attacking and carried by German prisoners after which by transport seven miles to a subject ambulance station forward of me in the village of Bouzincourt.
I’m solely half approach alongside the path – the solely shifting creature for miles round in the flat, treeless panorama beneath this malevolent sky – when a spattering of fats raindrops turns to heavy rain.
There isn’t any escape from the roar of thunder and lightning that comes subsequent. I briefly ditch my metallic bike – however then climb on once more and pedal arduous in the direction of the momentary safety of a barn.
In that second, out of breath and soaked to the bone, the climate all of a sudden feels unusually private – as if I’m being hunted down.
There isn’t any doubting the assault had been a strategic success.
George’s battation, the 2nd South Lancashires, had crossed the 400 yard stretch of no man’s land in underneath 30 minutes and walked cleanly by means of barbed wire that had been minimize to ribbons by British artillery hearth.
They killed 50 Germans who have been caught unexpectedly of their dugouts and took 400 prisoners together with a lot of officers. “The enemy did not make any great resistance and quickly gave himself up,” the battalion struggle diary later stated.
Nevertheless it was then that catastrophe struck. The enemy’s artillery opened hearth on their very own lost trenches whereas snipers started choosing off the Lancashire males. The battalion suffered 28 killed, 133 wounded and 26 lacking – leaving their lifeless on the subject as they returned to the rear.
The sector the place George Grindley was wounded. (Photograph: Dean Kirby)
The survivors have been despatched “hearty congratulations” by Douglas Haig, the commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Drive, on their “excellent work” in a telegram.
However studying by means of the service data of the males who died on 21 October reveals the tragedy of that day – the silent struggling of the lifeless males’s households again residence.
The mom of 20-year-old Edward Burgess was informed by the Military his medals have been the lawful property of his estranged father and “must be surrendered to him, should he appear and claim them”.
‘We are carrying this on for the families’
Different mother and father have been left questioning for months whether or not lacking sons have been nonetheless alive after being despatched an envelope of private possessions that contained nothing greater than an id disc – an indication maybe that that they had truly been obliterated by shelling.
“Can you tell me if it was taken off him and if he was dead at the time?” wrote the father of Alfred Baker in flawless handwriting that masked his hidden anguish after being despatched his son’s disc. “Any information you can give me will be gratefully received as his death has never been accounted for.”
Robinson Pugh, the brother of Willie Pugh, additionally wrote to the Military in December: “Can you give me any information concerning W Pugh and where he is?”
And as late as 1921, the father of Samuel Williamson was begging the Military not to ship his son’s dying plaque to their house as it will upset his grieving spouse and she or he “has not been in good health for some time”.
George Grindley’s spouse, Pollie, would additionally come to write her personal heartbreaking word to the Military: “I have received no effects whatsoever – only his identification disc.”
George Grindley’s grave in Bouzincourt. (Photograph: Dean Kirby)
Torrential rain continues to be pouring once I lastly attain the Commonwealth Conflict Graves Fee cemetery in Bouzincourt the place George lies buried.
On the night of 21 October 1916, he succumbed to his wounds in the area ambulance tents that stood throughout the street from the cemetery.
The stainless graves made out of Portland stone and planted with purple Lancashire roses stand in straight ranks subsequent to a farm the place French cows watch guests from over the wall.
A man I can see operating in the direction of me is Bob Thomson, 52, the fee’s senior head gardener at Thiepval, who has taken time to meet me right here on this appalling climate.
Mr Thomson has been in France 26 years and cares drastically about his work.
“It really starts to hit you when you’re weeding around the graves in the sunshine in spring,” he tells me as we take shelter from the downpour.
“That’s once you consider the males who’ve died right here. It’s very private then.
“We take a lot of pride in our jobs. We are carrying this on for the families.”
Pollie’s tribute to George. (Photograph: findmypast.co.uk)
Again house in Manchester in 1916, my circle of relatives had been struggling.
George’s younger widow, Pollie, suffered a second tragedy eight weeks later when their six-month-old daughter, Elizabeth, died from acute bronchitis.
“Somewhere abroad in a soldier’s grave,” Pollie wrote in a poem that winter as she mourned. “Lies my dear husband among the brave.”
I return to the cemetery at nightfall to lay a wreath of poppies – the first member of my household to achieve this in a century.
“Thank you George,” is all I’m in a position to write.
The rain has gone now and a heat night solar is shining throughout the fields of the Somme and on to the face of George’s grave.
A soldier’s grave amongst the courageous.
Bouzincourt Cemetery in the Somme area of France. (Photograph Dean Kirby)
George Grindley: A soldier’s story
George Grindley. (Photograph: findmypast.co.uk)
George Grindley was an bizarre man who was simply certainly one of the 700,000 British casualties who fell on the battlefields of the First World Struggle.
A former Dragoon Guard who had served in India and South Africa, he had given up preventing and was working at the Armstrong Whitworth armaments manufacturing unit overlooking his residence in Openshaw, Manchester, at the outbreak of the First World Warfare.
Aged 31 and simply 5ft 5in, he volunteered to be a part of the 2nd Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment and arrived in France, the place his brother Daniel Grindley was already serving, in the autumn of 1916.
George, a father of two, survived a heavy German shelling at Mouquet Farm that churned dwelling our bodies of wounded males into the sewer-like mud. He died from wounds after attacking Stump Trench in the Battle of the Ancre Heights on 21 October 1916, at the tail finish of the Battle of the Somme.
His story has been pieced collectively utilizing army service data and regimental struggle diaries and with the assist of the Commonwealth Conflict Graves Fee, the Lancashire Infantry Museum and findmypast.co.uk. Dean Kirby travelled with Brittany Ferries.