On a sunny August day in 2019, I set out from my house in the south of Holland to Picardy in northern France to commemorate my great-uncle Jack Westcott, whose name is engraved on the Thiepval Memorial as one of the ‘Missing of the Somme’. I planned a weekend trip to Amiens & surroundings to see first-hand the battlefields where my novel In Picardy’s Fields takes place. All photos are my own.

I visited many more places and memorials but for the sake of brevity I’ll concentrate on the Thiepval Memorial. I arrived there on the Friday afternoon and it was beautifully quiet; only a few people wandered around and the Museum/Visitor Centre was already closed, so I decided to return there the next day. The tall grass sang, the birds whistled, and the farmers harvested their crops.

Picardy’s fields, that slaughter place of the Great War, is immensely tranquil and free from strive these days. It has reclaimed its origin as farmland, rolling hills with yellow wheat, and sugar beets; meadows with cows, chewing lazily in the shadows of the trees. Through it all meanders the broad Somme River, glistening playfully in the sunlight and lined with rich green foliage. No guns, no mortars, no cries of agony or the boom-boom of cannons. Just the sounds of nature and an eerie silence rising from the more than one million souls lying deep in its soil. I don’t know if you’ve ever visited a battlefield spot, but I feel it in my whole being. I felt it too on the beaches of Normandy and I also felt it in Picardy. The extremes of hell and the peace thereafter. It’s eternal, it’s holy ground, one should trespass there with careful remembrance.

View from the Thiepval Memorial

The Thiepval Memorial (for more info see Wikipedia) is a war memorial to 72,337 missing British and South African servicemen who died in the Battles of the Somme of the First World War between 1915 and 1918, with no known grave. The memorial was built around 1930 and is the largest Commonwealth Memorial to the Missing in the world.  It is 140 feet (43 m) high and consists of 16 brick piers, having 64 stone-panelled sides. Only 48 of these are inscribed, as the panels around the outside of the memorial are blank. My Uncle Jack is on Pier and Face 11 C.

The next day I visited the Museum and found out that a British couple Pam and Ken Linge of Northumberland have been collecting photographs and biographical information relating to these ‘missing’ men since 2004 with the aim of recording and remembering their individual lives. The information is collected in the Visitor Centre’s database and the number of stories is growing every day. (http://www.greatwar.co.uk/organizations/thiepval-database-project.htm)

I am so incredibly proud that my Great-uncles Jack and William are now remembered in this databank thanks so my research (I’m the great-niece, Ferguson is my real name 😊)

To round off this series of blogs on my family in WW1, some more photos from the Picardy battlefields. The Somme River; a German cemetery with the black crosses. We would almost forget that there were also 1,773,700 German casualties; and two more photos of Allied cemeteries.