264. 3 July 2016.
After the excitement of yesterday and the flight over the Somme to commemorate David Bremner, there was time today to find out more about him on the ground.
After breakfast we made a trip to the Thiepval memorial visitor centre, where a map showed us that David’s fatal injuries were received in trenches within the Newfoundland memorial park, and so we headed there.
Having Theo there, who had been before and knew the lie of the land and is a fund of knowledge about the events of that day, was useful, and I was so grateful to him for being able to explain the events of that day 100 years ago. All of us found this a deeply moving experience, and for me it was profoundly sobering. I was able to stand on the very spot where David was 100 years before, look at the support trench he’d been in at 0730, and the front line trench which they had to cross. We could see the German gunner’s position at no great distance and how easily David and his men would have been picked out on the skyline. We could see the remains of the barbed wire supports through which the Border Regiment had to pass and made them such easy targets. We could see ‘Y’ ravine which provided such excellent shelter for the Germans throughout the previous five days’ bombardment, enabling them to be fully prepared for the advance on 1 July.
Driving in this area, with carefully-tended cemeteries on every corner, you could not help but be aware of the gigantic scale of the struggle going on. But seeing this appalling killing ground, you suddenly became aware of the intimacy of the event at a personal level. David would have been able to see his enemies across the field close enough to be able to distinguish one from another. In this tiny space around 6000 men were packed into the British trenches, with more on the other side. And within an hour, the majority were dead or injured. The bodies of many of them still lie there.
David ordered his men over the top, knowing exactly what was going to happen to them. This was a sacrifice and a heroism of an entirely different order to that shown by granddad, whose war was more of a Boy’s Own adventure. And through an accident of history, because his neighbours in the trench a few yards further along were the Newfoundland Regiment, David and the 1st Batallion Border Regiment barely get a mention in the park or in the history books.
There are so many strange anomalies. David was lucky in that he was recovered and sent along the line to the hospital at Doullens, where he died a week later. Many of his friends and colleagues were not, and died alone and untended where they fell – and lie there still. Among the Newfoundland Regiment, who went over the top an hour later, were four brothers, all officers, all of whom were killed in that single assault.
That afternoon we went to the cemetery at Doullens, found David’s grave, and I left his photograph there.
It was a perfect conclusion to our European journey, to stand by the grave of he whom we’d come to remember.