14 Members were present for the March 2018 Branch Meeting.
The Chairman read out a message of thanks from the Mollison family, following Ray Mollison's funeral. Members were reminded that the branch will be laying a wreath at the grave of Lt AA Lawson in Bournemouth on Sunday 18th March. This is to commemerate the 100th anniversary of his death on 19th March 1918. Members were reminded about the 8 RTR function in Bournemouth on 24th March. The final call was made for names of those attending the RTRA Church Service & Curry Lunch.
Details of the Royal British Legion veterans remembrance tours 2018 were given. These are the tours funded by the Libor fines imposed on the banks. Details of the Not Forgotten Association annual garden party at Buckingham Palace were made available.
The Chairman then closed the meeting and introduced the guest speaker.
The guest speaker was none ther than our own Dave Roberts!
Dave gave a most fascinating presentation on how the battlefields on the Western Front were cleared following the end of WW1. He started by detailing how the casualty evacuation process worked on the British portion of the front. This allowed him to show how this linked into the location of many of the cemetary's that sprang up in the area. He introduced us to Maj General Fabian Ware who was instrumental in producing the system used to register the location of graves of the fallen. He went on to explain how the bodies of the dead were located and removed for burial in designated war graves, he told us who the people were who had this unforunate task, he detailed the resulting problems these individuals encountered. Mental problems and heavy drinking were very common. The removal of deteriorating body parts is not what you would call a day to day task. He mentioned how one person who was removing bodies recalled years later that he had noticed a tomato plant growing amongst the carnage. They had deduced that it likely that someone had eaten a tomato, had a dump and a tomato seed had passed through his body, not been broken down, and then grew in it's own manure! Amongst all the terrible sights he saw, he had managed to block those out and recall this odd incident. How the human mind works.
Besides body recovery, the clean up involved the removal of millions of objects from the battlefield, This included artillery shell cases, bullet cartridges, steel hemets etc. It also involved the ardeous job of removing the larger and heavier battlefield objects, including the hulks of knocked out tanks, guns and trucks. The dismantling of fortified locations and trenches all had to be done. Dave told us how work groups were recruited from parts of the Empire for many of these labour intensive operations. Large numbers of workers from India, China and South Africa were hired, it took years.
Dave also explained how the War Graves Commision was formed, how the different monuments were selected, the different types of head stone arrived. He explained that the French Government decided eventually just to flatten area's and simply bury what was left. Again, Foreign workers were extensively used in this. We were told how one British soldier involved in this clean up complained to his superior that it would take "100 years" who would have guessed at the accuracy of the statement? 100 years later bodies, and artifacts are still coming to the surface in farmers fields. Some of the artifacts also need to be taken away by the bomb disposal teams. The actual clear up continued in one form or another until just before WWII. Some of the monuments were still having the names of the missing added to them as Hitlers Legions were invading Western Europe in 1940!
Above is just a fraction of what we found out, I gave up taking notes after about 5 minutes, my wrist was hurting! The address was clearly well researched, Dave had put a lot of time and effort into this power point presentation , a presentation delivered with character and passion. It really was very, very good.