Chinese at the Somme
Lucy Winstanley describes an unusual cemetery of the 1914-18 War, the burial place of Chinese workers who joined the Allied forces in the war against the Kaiser.
Looking out onto the flat meadows and dense woods of the Somme, it is easy to miss the subtle scars of the land – long crevices of trench lines and huge craters camouflaged by young woodland – that bear witness to the horrific scenes of nearly a century ago.
This part of France has no shortage of war cemeteries, where endless columns of perfectly aligned gravestones stretch as far as the eye can see and stately cenotaphs bear witness to the colossal human cost of the Great War. The locations of British cemeteries mark the shifting allied frontline during 1916, when the farmyards and forests of the Somme were transformed into the bloodiest battlefields Europe has ever seen. Soldiers from Britain and its Empire are commemorated in grand memorials, such as those at Beaumont-Hamel, dedicated to the Newfoundland Battalion, the Australian National War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, the South African memorials at Longueval and Delville Wood, and the Canadian park of remembrance at Courcelette.
The largest and best known memorial of all, the Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval, bears the names of 72,000 British and South African soldiers who died at the Somme but have no known grave. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and built on a raised ridge just outside of the small village, its huge stone arches dominate the landscape for miles around.
Yet there is another, rather less well-known, memorial by the same architect that few of the thousands of pilgrims visiting the battlefields of the Somme each year have even heard of, much less visited.