At the time of WW1
, Newfoundland was still a dominion of the British
Empire. It only became part of Canada
The Newfoundland regiment was put together shortly after the start of WW1, underwent training in various locations and was then sent to Gallipoli
attached to the British 29th Division. After that battle they were transferred to the Western Front.
On 1 July 1916, the Battle of the Somme
began, and the Newfoundlanders launched an attack a couple of hours into the battle at Beaumont-Hamel. It was a total catastrophe. The men never got any further than the “Danger Tree” (see below
) in the middle of no man’s land. Of the ca. 800 men about 80% became casualties. The regiment was practically wiped-out – in less than half an hour!
While the Battle of the Somme raged on elsewhere, this part of the front remained rather quiet after the Newfoundlander disaster, but in November the Scottish 51st (Highland) Division took Beaumont-Hamel, along with numerous German POW
s, and achieved the objectives that had originally been planned for 1 July. There was some battle action here during the German Spring Offensive of 1918, but on a smaller scale.
After the war, Newfoundland purchased this patch of land in 1921. The memorial site was established in 1924/25. When Newfoundland became part of Canada, the Canadian Department of Veterans Affairs assumed responsibility for the memorial site. In 1997 Beaumont-Hamel became the second of only two National Historic Sites of Canada
outside the country (the other being at Vimy Ridge
The several acres of former battlefield are the largest single such site on the Western Front. To preserve the trenches and craters in the former no man’s land, today’s visitors are required to stay on the prescribed paths. As at Vimy
, sheep graze the lands to keep the grass short.
What there is to see:
I visited this site only briefly at the end of a long day after already having been to four different museums and a number of memorial sites in the Somme
. So I didn’t see the visitor centre for myself nor the parts in the northern sectors of the memorial park.
The visitor centre, going by the info and virtual tours offered by veterans.gc.ca website, is a fairly small exhibition, modern, including a couple of screens, but few authentic artefacts on display. The focus is, naturally, on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and a few individual personal stories are told.
The main monument is that of a bronze Caribou Memorial, the central element of which is a bronze sculpture of that Canadian equivalent of the reindeer, standing atop a cluster of rocks. A bronze plaque at the foot of the rocks lists the names of 814 missing soldiers of the Newfoundlanders from all of WW1.
Just north of the Caribou Memorial is a small section of former trenches into which walkways have been installed so that you can walk in them. The rest of the trenches here are mere remnants. You can see the trench lines but not actually walk in them. Just like the now grass-overgrown craters these are just indicators of how the landscape here was scarred by the war.
Another war scar is the so-called “Danger Tree”, which is now a replica. The original tree was, like all trees, defoliated and cut short by the constant shelling but a lower portion of the slim trunk and a couple of branches remained standing. This tree thus served as a kind of landmark and orientation point for the Newfoundlanders. It was also used as a meeting point during battle, but as it was prominently seen from the German lines too, many Newfoundlanders were machine-gunned down by this tree. Hence it has become a memorial monument in its own right as well. It now stands next to a small cluster of living trees (planted after the war), by the path that leads from the trench exit north of the Caribou Memorial diagonally across the grassy pockmarked field towards the war cemetery on the eastern side of the memorial park.
There are three war cemeteries in total here, another is at the north-western end of the park, and to the east of it is Hunter’s Cemetery, which is a circular mass grave originally created inside a large shell crater. It is now surrounded by a circular wall and a tall cross stands atop it in the centre. Around 40 British soldiers are buried here together.
To the east of this is another monument: this one is not for the Newfoundlanders but is Scottish. It commemorates the men of the 51st Highland Division, which captured Beaumont-Hamel in November 1916. On top of it stands a bronze sculpture of a kilted figure.
Back by the Caribou Memorial and towards the car park there a few more memorial stones and plaques.
All in all
, this is a mixed site. The scars on the landscape left from the war are perhaps the most impressive aspect – though these are actually better seen from the air than from on the ground. There are better trench reconstructions/relics elsewhere, not least in nearby Auchonvillers
(but see also Ypres Salient
). The monuments are much smaller in scale and thus can’t really compete with the grand structures at Thiepval
or the main National Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge
. The visitor centre of Beaumont-Hamel, likewise, is nowhere near on a par with those at other sites (like, again, Thiepval), but it is a nice addition providing context in an otherwise silent and scarred landscape.
just outside Auchonvillers
, the Somme
, northern France
, by the D73 route (Rue de l’Église), but NOT in the village of Beaumont-Hamel, from where there is no road access to the Newfoundland Memorial site!
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: fairly easy by car/bike; free
Details: To get to this place you have to have your own vehicle (or bike), unless you’re on a guided tour by coach; there is no public transport.
it’s just down the road, merely a mile (1.6 km) or so to the south-east on the D73. Coming from Albert
and the main road north of that town, the D50, turn left on to the D73 at the village of Hamel – it’s signposted. The car park (almost three dozen spaces, free) is right by the road. The site itself has to be explored on foot.
The memorial park is freely accessible at all times (though after dark would make little sense), the visitor centre has the following opening times: Tuesdays to Sundays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays only open from 11 a.m.; admission free.
As at Vimy
, Canadian student guides are available for tours of the park (at least in high season).
Time required: difficult for me to say. It also depends a lot on whether you want to explore the entire area, including the northern parts, or make do with the actual Newfoundland Memorial part, and also on how deep you want to delve into the texts and the material on screens in the visitor centre. Anything between less than half an hour and up to two hours plus seems realistic.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
The closest other WW1
-related sites are in Auchonvillers
, less than a mile (1.6 km) up the road to the north-west. Thiepval
is also quite close, ca. 2.5 miles (4.5 km) to the south-east.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Not much in the vicinity, where WW1
-commemoration dominates; the rest is mainly rural agricultural land.
But see under France
- Beaumont-Hamel 1 - war-pockmarked land
- Beaumont-Hamel 2 - remnants of the former front line
- Beaumont-Hamel 3 - former trench
- Beaumont-Hamel 4 - walkway through a former trench
- Beaumont-Hamel 5 - Newfoundland memorial
- Beaumont-Hamel 6 - with caribou sculpture at the top
- Beaumont-Hamel 7 - plaque at the bottom
- Beaumont-Hamel 8 - another memorial
- Beaumont-Hamel 9 - war cemetery in the back