Poppies on The Somme

Let me take you back in time. It's June 2016 and I am standing on one of the many battlefields on the Somme in northern France. Almost one hundred years ago to the day, both my grandfather’s; George Cameron Boulton (maternal) and Gabriel Winestein (paternal) were here too. George was with the Royal Artillery and Gabriel with the Leeds Rifles.

Looking across the beautiful French countryside it is hard to imagine that once this place was a mass of mud, water and the odd skeletal tree or ruined farmhouse. An horrific landscape of nightmares.

The big push came on 1 July 1916. After seven days of heavy bombardment the British officers ordered their men over the top and told them to walk, not run, as they expected that the British seven day pounding by the artillery had destroyed the German trenches and all the men in them. Little did they know that during the heavy bombardment at least a third of the shells did not explode and the Germans were well dug in, in their superior fortified trenches. What faced those brave British ‘Tommies’ is unimaginable?

On that one July, there were over  20,000 British casualties, dead or wounded. It was the worst first day of battle that Britain and the colonial forces had ever experienced. The battle of the Somme waged for many more months. George served almost 200 days on the front. Both of my grandfathers experienced the horrors of trench warfare.

George was invalided out of the army in 1917. He was never the same again. ‘Shell shock’ as it was known then blighted his life, he was unable to hold a cup and a saucer steady. Today it is known as post-traumatic stress disorder. However, he did marry, and my Mum was the youngest of five children. And I am here sharing some of his story. Sadly, I never got to meet wither George or Gabriel, both died relatively young, in their late fifties, long before I was born.

One hundred and 5 years after the battle of the Somme I believe it important to remember those not only killed in battle but wounded too and many more lives impacted by  war and its effect on future generations.

That’s why I became a member of the Royal British Legion and wear a Poppy in November at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month and observe 2 mins silence on Remembrance Sunday for those lost in all conflicts, past and present.

Lest we forget.

Keith Winestein