Somme 100: an RNA family pilgrimage

With the centenary celebrations and commemorations of the First world War taking place since 2016, shipmate Penny Jarvis and some family members went on a pilgrimage to France to trace the steps of their relatives, killed during the Battle of the Somme. This is Penny’s summary of her trip:

On the 18th August 1916 Private Edward Bozet of the 7th Northamptonshire Regiment went over the top of the trench at a small village in France called Guillmont, within a very short period of time he was dead and his body was never found, it was his 3rd time at the front as he had been invalided home twice before, he was just 21. He left a wife and two children, one of whom was my mother.

On Saturday the 13th August 2016.  I, with two of my children and three grandchildren started the same journey.

Leaving Dover by boat we landed in Calais and then drove down to Beacourt- Sur-Ancre, a small village which was part of the Somme battle front line. In fact, in this tiny village there is a memorial to the Royal Naval Brigade who lost men in this area.

Penelope Jarvis and members of the family at the beginning of their pilgrimage

The next day we visited some of the cemeteries and memorials which were nearby, including the Newfoundland and some of the Pals memorials and Serre Road cemetery where my Great Uncle Edgar is buried, who also died on the Somme in the November.

Paying respects at the graveside of Edgar Jarvis

On the following Tuesday we drove up to Ypres spending the day which culminated in joining in the service of the Last Post at the Menin Gate, where I was honoured to be the only Standard Bearer on parade together with a contingent of Canadian Veterans. Very moving.

S/M Penny Jarvis at the service of the ‘Last Post at the Menin Gate’

On Thursday 18th August we attended at the British Thiepval Memorial to the missing. The Royal British Legion have held a service here each day since the 1st July and will continue to do so until the anniversary of the last day of the Battle of the Somme.

S/M Penny Jarvice at the British Thiepval Memorial to the missing

Again, I was honoured to carry the Royal Naval Standard throughout the service and my children and grandchildren laid wreaths on behalf of the family, our RNA Branch and the local branch of RAFA for one of our members.

Penny’s children and grandchildren laid wreaths
In Remembrance
Wreaths at the Thiepval Memorial
Memorial to the Royal Naval Service personnel killed during the Battle

It was a very moving service, as was the whole day an emotional time for us all. We were very fortunate to meet there two men who were also on a pilgrimage. Gerald whose grandfather like mine was also killed on the same day and from the same regiment in the same location. As they had done far more research than we had managed, they were able to give us further information.

We also noted the names on the memorial of the Royal Naval Regiment, who should probably not have been in this area at all, but for the need of just more men for the front line.

Penny’s family at the Thiepval Memorial

We met up with Gerald and Dave in the afternoon at Guillemont cemetery.  They made us a brew and we were able to read their research. They then showed the exact location of the trench that the 4 companies of Northampton’s would have come out of and we were able to work out within about 50 yards exactly where my grandfather would have been killed. He was in B company in the centre.

I do know that in this one small field over the period of the battle for Guillemont that 100.000 Germans were killed and so there would also have been many tens of thousands British dead. After each battle the British bodies were then just pushed back into the trench as there was no time for anything further, and would have then been dug up and reinterred at a later date, which is partly why so many were unknown.

The Battlefield today

The whole area was covered in shrapnel pieces, including a live hand grenade which my son had found, the pin was still intact. We left a marker for the farmer, who was ploughing the field, to ensure it was dealt with safely.

Remnants of the Battle, a live hand grenade

We spent the remainder of our week visiting other sites. Most memorably The Ulster Tower built in memory of the many Irish who died. And particularly Pozieres where so many Australian Anzacs lost their lives. My grandchildren now know much more about our family and the First World War and took a keen interest in it all.

A last look before heading home

We returned home on the Saturday after an amazing and emotional week we are unlikely to forget


Penelope Jarvis  
Letchworth and Hitchin Branch RNA


BZ Penny, a great way to show your respects to your family.