On holiday in France, with a battered copy of Major and Mrs Holts\' Battlefields Guide to hand, we managed to stop off at a number of the key sites along the Somme. The Vimy Ridge memorial is, of course, a must. It is one of Canada\'s most important war memorials and was designed to commemorate all those Canadians who gave their lives in World War I and is located on the ground where the battle itself took place in 1917.  As I was wandering around this truly beautiful memorial, I was struck by the number of soldiers who had served under false names. It instantly made me wonder if the majority of these were under-age volunteers but I suppose there could have been a number of reasons why this could have been such a common practise. If any readers have any thoughts or opinions on this please let me know!

Thiepval and the Newfoundlanders Memorial are also must-sees in my opinion but it is also a good idea to try to find some of the individual memorials that were privately erected that are dotted around the fields. One such is the private memorial to Capitaine Monclin  and his soldiers of the French 6th Infantry Regiment, who were killed on 28 September 1914.  This is only a small stone cross on the side of the road but it is also a fantastic observation point over the Somme. It is possible to see from the far edge of Mametz village to Montauban, showing the biggest Allied advance of the 1 July 1916. Also clearly visible is the Thiepval Memorial, High Wood, Caterpillar Cemetery and Delville Wood (refer to Itinerary Two of the Holts\' guidebook if you want to find this particular spot). One of the most surprising aspects of my visit to the Somme was realising that it was a very undulating landscape, for some reason I had it fixed in my head that it would be relatively flat. Walking some of the battlefields you get a real sense of how important the high ground was, even if it was only a matter of a hundred foot, and how quickly Allied forces would have stalled in the face of well-entrenched German machine-gun fire.

A view of the awe-inspiring Vimy Ridge memorial.

Vimy Ridge

A shot of some of the names on the memorial itself, including some that served under false names. I counted almost a hundred on just one part of the memorial.

Memorial names

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme now has a searchable database in its visitors\' centre. The aim is that you will be able to search for any name on the memorial and it will give all the available information about this particular soldier. Not just name, rank and number but also age, where he was from, where he served during his army career and even a photograph. It is a huge task considering that there are over 70,000 names carved on the memorial but already there is a vast amount of information available.

Thiepval Memorial