Sheffield and the First World War - Research trip (part 2)

Museums Sheffield’s Children and Young People Co-ordinator, Graham Moore continues his blog on the recent research trip for our forthcoming exhibition, Sheffield and the First World War.

Having received such a kind welcome in the village of Bapaume, we continued our journey through Northern France. Travelling through the Somme we passed several memorials and cemeteries which brought home the scale of loss of life across the region.

Our first stop was the village of Serre, home to the monument remembering the Sheffield Pals. The Sheffield Pals were a city battalion formed in 1914 through direct recruiting in the city and part of the York and Lancaster Regiment. Pals battalions were made up of groups of men who had enlisted together, allowing friends, neighbours and colleagues to serve alongside one another.

Continuing our journey just a little further, we made our way to the nearby Sheffield Memorial Park, passing en route through the Serre Road Cemeteries and the neighbouring French Cemetery. Each of these cemeteries is beautifully kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the rows of pristine white headstones and sense of calm a stark contrast to the battles that ravaged these fields almost 100 years ago.

Arriving at Sheffield Memorial Park we were able to get a sense of the trench positions held by the Sheffield Pals on the first day of the Somme. On the morning of 1 July 1916, after a week-long bombardment of the German trenches, the order was given to go ‘over the top’. The Sheffield Pals, along with more than 100,000 British and French troops, were ordered forward in the bright July sunshine towards what was believed to be the heavily depleted German line. In reality, the continuous bombardment had not had not been as effective as imagined and the Germans were able to defend in force with devastating results; more than 20,000 allied soldiers were killed that day, including 512 from the Sheffield Pals Battalion.

Our day concluded with a visit to the striking Thiepval Memorial. Remembering the 72,191 missing British and South African soldiers who died during the battle of the Somme, the 150 foot high red brick and Portland stone memorial dominates the countryside for miles around.

Trenches at Vimy RidgeAfter an early start the following morning, the final leg of our journey took us to Vimy Ridge. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is the centrepiece of a 250-acre preserved battlefield park commemorating the area where the Canadian Army made its assault during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, part of the Battle of Arras. The memorial is of huge significance in Canada and all Canadian school children are taught about the site and the events that transpired there.

A short distance from the monument we visited an area of preserved and reconstructed trenches. It was fascinating to gain a first-hand idea of the size of the underground network, learn about its design and try and imagine what it must have been like for the soldiers entrenched there facing an onslaught of enemy fire.

As we finally made our way back to Calais, we had chance to reflect on all we’d seen and learnt over the weekend. It had been an exhausting but hugely valuable few days and we all felt extremely lucky to have had the experience. We’re now busy working on telling these incredible stories in the exhibition next year and we look forward to sharing them with you when we open the doors in February. 

We’ll be exploring the story of the Sheffield Pals battalion and the experiences of the city’s soldiers in the exhibition Sheffield and the First World War when it opens at Weston Park next year. If you have any family memories or mementos from the First World War which you’d like to share with us, we would be delighted to hear from you – contact our Curator of Social History, Clara Morgan at clara.morgan@museums-sheffield.org.uk


Images:

Top - Sheffield Memorial Park, Serre, France
Right - Trenches at Vimy Ridge

Jul 11 2013

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