By Francesca Fenn.
Last week was the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1. London commemorated the event in many ways, and normally I'd have been up there somewhere in the city paying my respects. In particular, the hundreds of thousands of poppies being 'planted' in the moat of the Tower of London demonstrate to great effect the number of men who died in that conflict.
I was on holiday, but was able to commemorate the date in such a special way that I want to tell you about it, even though it wasn't in London! I spent the 4th August following the Somme Remembrance Trail in North Eastern France. We set off from Peronne, one of the towns that was utterly destroyed by the enemy, and visited a war cemetery, the British Memorial at Thiepval and a reconstructed trench. We walked around a battlefield at Beaumont-Hamel that has not been re-contoured, where we could see both the scale of the battlefield, and how the front and support trenches worked. No man's land there is still a great craterfield, and the public is not allowed to walk on it because of the possibility of unexploded mines. We were stunned by the scale of the Lochnaga crater, created by the detonation of 66,000 ponds of explosive under the German lines, and with the loss of a great many lives. Finally, we visited the narrow gauge railway which took supplies to the trenches from nearby towns, and part of which still runs today.
The day was emotional and difficult, but very fitting, and left me so deeply grateful that we - and our three sons - were born 100 years on.
This is probably the most serious Step Outside blog you will ever read! Next time we'll be back in our own fair city and who knows what stories we will have to tell!