Edmund Blunden loses his way on reconnaissance

This photograph was taken from close by the Thiepval Memorial. The clump of trees in the centre of the picture surrounds the *Ulster Tower Memorial. The large ploughed field nearby was the general area of the infamous German fortifications known as the Schwaben Redoubt - a mass of gun emplacements, trenches and tunnels. The wood to the left of the picture is Thiepval Wood, well known to Edmund Blunden in the later stages of the Somme battles, but the scene of heavy loss to the Lancashire Fusiliers on the 1st July 1916, as they tried to go forward from the wood towards devastating fire from the German redoubt.

The very small group of trees in the ploughed field surrounds Mill Road Cemetery with its 1300 burials, the cemetery being built over one of the former redoubt’s entrances. With the crumbling of the various tunnels beneath it, a decision was made to change the position of the headstones from the vertical to the horizontal. (cf. Boulogne Eastern Cemetery).

In November 1916 Blunden was with the 11th Royal Sussex at Thiepval. He was detailed to go out, with his runner, Private Johnson, into the front line and make a reconnaissance beyond the recently captured Schwaben Redoubt.

The proposal was for a detail of 300 men under the control of the second in command of the battalion - Captain Cooling - to carry extensive trench stores to the area of what is now the grounds of the Ulster Tower. Blunden was to explore the feasibility of this movement. In the course of this reconnaissance Blunden and his runner got totally lost, wandered in enemy lines, came under enemy fire and quite miraculously returned to the HQ of the Royal Sussex where Blunden’s battalion commander - Col. Harrison was speaking on the field telephone to Brigade HQ. Blunden writes: "I heard him say: Yes, sir, they have just come back, and report an extraordinary barrage, say it would be a disaster to send up that party of 300, sir. Yes, certain disaster. Yes, so they say, and from their appearance one can see that these are men who have been through terrific shelling. Yes sir, I’ll bring Blunden along to-night."


* This is the place where on 1st July 1916 the 36th (Ulster) Division won glory in their attempt to capture the Schwaben Redoubt.

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