Three years ago I bumped into a moderately well-known WW1 historian one afternoon in the car park at work. I mentioned that I was planning a trip to the Somme that summer and he recommended we come along to Beaumont Hammel just before 6am on 1st July where he and some historical re-enactors would be commemorating the start of the Battle of the Somme.
It sounded like a good idea. A few months later, I duly dragged my friends out of their tent in the orchard of a Chateau before dawn and we drove across the quiet French countryside to the small village of Beaumont Hammel. There my map reading skills failed utterly and I was unable to find the road we needed that led to Sunken Lane where everyone was gathering. Some time after 6am, when the battle would have been well underway, we stumbled upon an almost deserted First World War English army camp.
The only person left in camp was the cook. We had an interesting chat. I asked to feel the weight of his Lee Enfield rifle. He said he ought to check it wasn’t loaded first. Okaayyy…. The rifle was mostly made of a lump of wood and was heavy.
Having got directions, we finally made our way down the road to Sunken Lane. The wheat was tall and green, dotted with poppies. It was hot and getting hotter. A platoon of British soldiers marched past, followed shortly thereafter by a solitary German soldier on a creaking bicycle.
The experience made me think I ought to spend some time talking to historical re-enactors to get those little details right. I recently started doing some research and, as luck would have it, I found out that the Great War Society were appearing at the Tower of London this past weekend. This would give me a double whammy of First World War and medieval architecture.
I hustled over early on Saturday morning and first met up with this very helpful woman dressed as a VAD ambulance driver, the same profession as the main female character in my novel.
The men were also out, doing manly things.
I also spent some time wandering around the Tower itself. It hasn’t changed much since the last time I was here about 10 years ago. I guess that’s what happens when you’re getting on for 1,000 years old. Change happens s l o w l y. . . . . .