26 July 2016
Attended Billingham Choral Society Summer Concert in St Johns School, Billingham. The event was very well attended, with music by the choir and solos by Paddy Duffy and Barbara Fisher. We also had an innovative guest appearance of ‘LOVE IN MOTION‘, who had come from California and are a signing choir. We had a great night listening to the choir and being entertained by the signing choir who were quite moving at times in their interpretations of songs.
27 July - 2 August 2016
The following entry is regarding a private, self financing trip in order to visit the site of my grandfathers grave, and not part of my official Mayoral duties, that I wish to share as it is pertinent to the commemorations taking place for the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme:
I have taken a 5 day break for two reason firstly it is a very quiet week for events to attend and it is the 100th anniversary of the death of my Grandfather at the battle of the Somme. As some back ground it is only about 6 months ago that my brother Alan and his wife Sue found out that our biological grandfather died in the battle of the Somme. Before then it transpires that our grandfather was wounded in 1915 and sent home to re coup, by the time he returned to the front line in June my grandmother was pregnant with my father. My grandfather was in the 2nd Yorkshire regiment was badly injured on 23rd in a battle on the edge of Guillemont. My father, being born in the December not knowing his father and my grandmother marrying some two years later, so the history was virtually lost to descendants.
The Mayoress, Linda, my brother and sister in law and me travelled to Dover then on the ferry to Dunkirk to visit the beaches where my father was repatriated by boat from the battle, this was a moving thought to think my father had been on this beach during the war. We spent the night at Ypres where we visited the Menin Gate to watch the ceremony.
We drove to Le Sars on the Somme; we then visited Albert and amazingly found the grave of our grandfather in the extension cemetery in the graveyard built for the men who died in the field hospital based there. This was one of the most moving feelings I have known and have to admit filling up upon laying my hand on his grave stone!
We spent the next three days visiting the war memorials and grave yards which seemed to be about every mile each with its own story of the brave men interred there. Attended the stunning Thieval Monument, this monument was huge and erected to commemorate all the soldiers that were killed but no marked grave, there were over 72,000 names and because there was no further room the remaining 28,000 were put on a separate monument. I laid wreath in a service on behalf of my grandfather and the people of the Stockton area .We attended the Lochnagar bomb crater which was some 21 meters deep and 30 meters wide and was caused when the British dug under the German lines and detonated hundreds of pound of explosive causing and explosion that reportedly sent debris over 4000 feet in the air. On the edge of the crater is a wooded walk way which has brass commemorative plaques in memory of British soldiers, some heart wrenching inscriptions such as 17yrs ‘Shot at Dawn’ also 16,17,18 and 19yr old men side by side killed in battle from the Manchester PALS.
There was so much to see and take in, a real mixture of emotions, sadness, utter disbelief that so many of the soldiers from all over the commonwealth as was, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland, India, etc. died because of the inability of those in charge at the top to comprehend what was happening on the front , when you get orders to go over the top and WALK , go through cut barbed wire that hadn’t even been cut, cause diversions, and in my grandfather’s case they were to flank the Manchester rifles under a smoke screen, but the smoke came straight back at them as the wind was in the wrong direction with them losing their way, giving the German guns free range.
On 1st August 100yrs to the date we laid a wreath on our grandfathers grave and planted a rose bush, the shame is that I found that every grave yard we visited there were only a handful of graves that had some type memento of recognition out of 100’s, so sad. We then attended Albert Town Hall and went to see the Mayor and present him with a plaque from the people of Stockton to commemorate the area and the men who perished in the war.
The Mayor Stephane Demilly was away on holiday so I presented to his P.A. Xatarzyna Porez – Griseur.
This was a very moving and thought provoking visit giving us a huge insight into what our soldiers’ endured and pure bravery that they showed in trying to make sure that WE are all living in a free society and environment. I would urge everyone to go and look at what was sacrificed for freedom if not at least look at all the available information, I am sure that you will be moved and remember ‘WE SHALL NOT FORGET THEM ‘
I am sorry about the brevity but there is so much I wanted to put in, thank you for reading this.