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The Pope's Nose

Blunden's War - Part 12A: The Ancre Still Flows


September 2 1917. The battalion has come South - to the Ancre, trenches at Hamel. Today the Ancre valley, in the Beaumont Hamel sector, is a rural paradise; peace, colour, butterflies, and otters busy in the clear water. Blunden is tipped into the same place, but then a filthy brown industrial scar, part of that long line from the Channel to the Alps through which the Battle of the Somme raged for nearly four months, where you could drown in the mud.

If you ever get the chance, visit this place. Visit Hamel, trace the infamous Jacob's Ladder trench as it rises today from the sodden No Man's Land of the Ancre valley, a clear way marked with small trees climbing the hill as seen from the Ulster Tower. Visit the Schwaben Redoubt and the Pope's Nose lying just below the surface of the vast cornfields that face Hamel. And go into Thiepval Wood (with a guide) and stay on the duckboards. The whole wood is full of unexploded bombs. And visit Stuff Trench, marked with its line of trees, old shells still lying on the surface. All these places are within a mile or so of each other, and form the area of operation for Blunden and the 11th Royal Sussex until mid November. The spirit of the men who died here lives on, especially at night.

The autumn colours will be spectacular around Black Horse Bridge, near where you can see a communication trench under gentle leaf fall to the rear of a small cemetery. Over the next few months these names, among others will become familiar, as Blunden describes with irony, 'a home from home'.

The picture shows the remnants of 'The Pope's Nose' part of the Somme battle fought by the Ulster Volunteer Force against the Bavarians. To the right, under the field is Schwaben Redoubt, the trees are in the Ancre Valley and Hamel is behind the trees. To the right of the picture is Beaumont Hamel and the Beaucourt Ridge.

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