Throughout the years that WWI raged, many lives were claimed however in the Somme Offensive, 68,000 men were killed on the first day alone making it one of the bloodiest battles. It is little wonder that ghosts have seen throughout the years, for many WWI is not over yet.
Nobody was getting much sleep during the early hours of November 5th 1916.
At midnight on the 4th, a relatively small German force had started firing its arsenal, determined to over-run trenches currently occupied by the British 2nd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment.
The whole area around Albert, in Picardie, France, shook with explosions and the thunder of artillery. So far so ordinary for a night at the Battle of the Somme.
But what happened next was far from ordinary.
Captain W.E. Newcome took up the story in his official report back to headquarters. He told of personally witnessing a 'brilliant, white light' appear to rise from the muddied ground between the opposing armies.
Within a few seconds, the light had formed itself into the figure of a man. It was a British officer, wearing a uniform which was slightly out-dated.
But the aspect which stunned the entire Suffolk regiment was the ghostly figure's face. He looked exactly like Lord Kitchener. It was a visage which was familiar from the recruitment posters. Just about every man there had answered the legend printed beneath it, 'Your Country Needs You'. Their regiment was one of Kitchener's own. But the former Secretary of State had been killed five months before, in June 1916. He could not be at the Somme.
British flares flew into the air, illuminating No Man's Land. Still the distinctive figure of Lord Kitchener walked along, parallel to the trenches, his face turned towards them. It felt like an inspection in the most dangerous possible circumstances.
The luminous form shifted his attention to the other side. For a moment, all German barrage ceased, as those men too tried to make sense of what they were seeing. For over a thousand yards, the specter strolled, looking first this way, then that.
But the flares had signaled for assistance from the distant British artillery units. Suddenly shells were cascading down onto No Man's Land and edging closer to the German position. Naturally they fought back.
Within the ensuing chaos of war, everyone seemed to lose sight of the apparent ghost. It had disappeared by the time the smoke cleared.
An imposing memorial stands at Thiepval dedicated to the missing of the Somme. Carved upon it are the names of 73,367 British and Commonwealth soldiers, who have no known grave. Their bodies still lie under the surrounding countryside.
It is an area of military graves, acres upon acres of identical white headstones, all bearing the name of yet one more dead soldier. They overlook a delightful rural landscape.
The greenery of the rolling hills and the lush woodland surrounding the memorials are deceptive. They provide no testimony to the village of Thiepval, which once stood there before the Battle of the Somme crowded at its doors. Nor to the utter carnage in mud and terror that churned up this landscape in September 1916.
By November 1917, when two official World War One artists, William Orpen and Henri Joffroy, were in the vicinity, they visited the same Somme location two days apart. They really wished that they hadn't.
Dublin born William Orpen had made a good living from painting the rich and famous before the Great War. Now he had been commissioned to produce artwork based on scenes from the Western Front.
In November 1917, Orpen carried his heavy canvas and easel into Thiepval Wood. It was over a year since hostilities had ceased in this particular location, but the wreckage was still there. He was surrounded by skeletons in the rags of their uniforms.
The artist's first indication that he wasn't quite alone came with a peculiar sense of strangeness, after he had already been painting for a couple of hours. The sun was still shining, but the day seemed dark. Orpen was overwhelmed by feelings of dread and fear. He sat down upon the blasted trunk of a blackened tree.
Suddenly something unseen seemed to rush at him. He was flung backwards and hit his head heavily on the ground. Then it was gone.
Struggling panic-stricken to his feet, the artist realized that his canvas was now quite destroyed. It too had smashed down hard, and an unknown soldier's skull had ripped through the center. Yet Orpen had the strongest compulsion to keep on painting. It appeared to him that the issue had been the fact that he'd stopped.
He continued on with no further ghostly interruptions, though the sense of dread went on.
But the story wasn't quite over. Shortly afterwards, Orpen was in conversation with a fellow Great War artist named Henri Joffroy. Though he didn't discuss the strange happenings there, he did mention that one of the British skulls had an unusual cleft in the jaw-bone.
Joffroy wished to make a study of it, but didn't have the transport to go to the location. Orpen offered to take him there, then return later to pick him up. As it happened, Orpen arrived much earlier than planned, as he'd picked up some lunch and decided to share his food with his fellow artist.
When Orpen strolled into Thiepval Wood, he found Joffroy lying prone on the ground away from the place where he'd been left. The stricken artist complained that the smell had made him feel ill, and that he was upset about an eye remaining in the skull's socket.
Orpen was understandably confused about this. A year had eroded the stench of the dead, and the eyes had long since gone from every skull.
The experiences of Orpen and Joffroy seem indicative of many reports from the woods and copses around the Somme Battlefield.
Allied soldiers have been spotted amongst the trees of Delville Wood. Eerie feelings have been a hallmark of a walk in just about them all.
But the spookiest of all came from a writer traversing the Nairne Street trench, in the midst of the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John copses. The hair stood up on the back of his neck, before he clearly heard a male voice speak right into his ear, "We're still here."
However all of these tales pale into insignificance when compared to the sheer volume of ghost stories emanating from Mametz Wood. While each tale told individually may not add up to much, the fact that there are so many highlights this as ground zero for most of the Somme's paranormal investigations.
Even the locals, who have grown up in and around the vast battlefield, tend to avoid this place. Too many of them have reported hearing bugle calls or the ghostly sounds of battle re-enacted within.
The centerpiece of the whole woodland is a huge Ddraig Goch (Red Dragon) holding a piece of broken barbed wire. This memorial should provide a huge clue to the nationality of the men who died there, at least on the Allied side. On the other was the Lehr Infantry Regiment.
During the first twelve days of July 1916, the Welsh Division was practically wiped out in their ultimately successful attempt to take the woods from the Germans. Over 4,000 men were killed; most just simply getting to the area in the face of fierce machine gun fire, and the rest in unrelenting hand-to-hand combat amongst the trees.
The vast majority of ghostly reports from Mametz Wood concerns the sensation of being watched.
People walking from Flatiron Cemetery, along the track before the trees, up to the Red Dragon monument find themselves feeling uneasy.
Even those who know nothing of the history, in this particular spot, gain the sense that dozens of eyes are charting their every step.
Of course, that's precisely what would have happened there in July 1916. The Lehr Infantry Regiment were watching from the trees. Their machine guns were at the ready. These men were known to be a formidable enemy, but they were also very human. Their fear and discomfort amongst the trees would have been palpable.
It wasn't only the Welsh who died at Mametz Wood. The Lehr-Infanterie-Regiment was left in such tatters that it couldn't be deployed again until September 1916, when fresh German conscripts had replenished its ranks and been trained to fight.
But for the Welsh Division coming, there was the reality of being sitting ducks out in that field and on that track. For most of them, this was their first taste of war, as their regiments had only recently been created by Prime Minister David Lloyd-George.
While the Germans were battle-hardened and weary, the Welsh were suffering the shock of arriving fresh from their native valleys. This was supposed to be full of honor and glory. Instead they'd had their leader, Major General Ivor Philipps, relieved of command under the slur that his Welsh Division wasn't 'determined' enough, because they hadn't taken the woods on day one.
Filled with shame, guilt and the injustice of it all, the Welsh were forced to clamber over the bodies of those who'd died on every day of the assault previously. Right into the German machine gunfire.
Meanwhile the Germans were also living with the sight and close proximity of all those Celtic dead. Teutonic eyes spent days staring out over the corpses, knowing that they'd have to add to the piles or be killed themselves.
Until the Welsh finally broke through, then it was hand-to-hand combat with fixed bayonets, daggers and point-blank gunfire.
Such high emotion, from both sides, can leave residual energy in the atmosphere. It is almost certainly this which modern day visitors to Mametz Wood are feeling.
Is the Lehr Infantry Regiment still watching? Probably not, but it feels like they are. At least to anyone with an ounce of clair-sentience in their soul.
Emotional energy left in the atmosphere is also a factor at another location on the Somme.
Ghost story chronicler Edward Butts recorded how visitors to the battlefield 'have experienced a distinct chill; not the sort that comes from a fresh breeze, but something that reaches right to the bone.'
This wasn't at Mametz Wood, but at an area marked by 'The Danger Tree'.
One of the most tragic aspects of the Somme was how whole communities would sign up, fight and die together. In an instant, they would all be wiped out.
Such calamity beset a whole male generation of Newfoundland and Labrador. On July 1st 1916, the whole Newfoundland Regiment were sent over the top, supported by the British Essex men of the 29th British Division. It was an order which meant almost certain death.
As they squeezed through a gap in the barbed wire marked by a tree, there was no cover from the gunmen in the German trenches. Nor was there any other distraction, as the rest of the fighting had shifted down the line. In short, machine guns could be opened upon them without pause for a mad dash of 750 yards.
Next morning at roll call, only 68 Newfoundlanders replied. The day before there had been 810.
Today the barbed wire has gone, but still there is the remains of what the Newfoundland Regiment dubbed the Danger Tree. Edward Butts continued describing the effect on unwary Somme tourists wandering too near it. 'They have felt an overwhelming sense of dread and depression, and a sudden urge to get away from the place as quickly as possible.'
It seems like a fair enough response given the emotion felt by those needlessly sacrificed to folly there.
Sergeant Thomas Hunter made it out of the Somme, but he didn't make it home. The native of Kurrii Kurrii, New South Wales, died of his injuries, while lying in an English hospital bed.
Sergeant Hunter was a member of the Tenth Corps Australian Expeditionary Force. He was right in the thick of action at the Somme during the opening days in July 1916.
Once wounded, he was airlifted out and flown to Peterborough, in England. There he died in the infirmary on July 31st 1916 and was buried in the nearby Broadway Cemetery. His memorial plaque is in Peterborough Cathedral.
However that was not the end of him.
The First World War infirmary building has since changed purpose. It now forms the premises of Peterborough Museum. It's along these corridors, and on a specific staircase, that the ghostly form of Sergeant Hunter is often seen. Curators alone in the building also hear footsteps pacing in the rooms above. Investigating the sounds always reveals them to be deserted.
Unlike the majority of ghosts connected with the Somme, this one is sentient. Visitors to the museum have reported feeling a hand clamp down upon their shoulder. It's an icy sensation, which chills them to the bone.
Though the museum's curators assume that the ghostly hand is down to Sergeant Hunter too, they can't be certain. For those who experience this will turn around to find nobody there, though the freezing pressure remains solidly on their shoulder.
Source - Wizzley
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