The Good Life France Magazine

The Good Life France Magazine brings you the best of France - inspirational and exclusive features, fabulous photos, mouth-watering recipes, tips, guides, ideas and much more...

Published by the award winning team at The Good Life France

1 year ago

Issue No. 15

Discover the Drome, Nyons - the last Provencal frontier, Charente-Maritime, Burgundy, Paris gastronomy, Nice, secret Provence, recipes, a whole lot more. It's the next best thing to being in France...

A family pilgrimage to

A family pilgrimage to the Somme by Doug Goodman In September 1916 High Wood in Picardy was a vision of tree stumps and mud – a deathly landscape. It was here on the morning of 15 September that a boy soldier from Wandsworth, London fell in the battle to take the Wood. Bertram Alec Reader – known as Alec – was the eldest of 5 children. In the summer of 1915, at the age of 17, he made a trip to Somerset House, London, and joined the 15th Battalion London Regiment, Prince of Wales’ Own, Civil Service Rifles (CSR). Having passed the medical inspection he left as Private B. A. Reader 3623. In March 1916 Alec sailed for France. All of Alec’s letters home survive and his story has been pieced together by his nephew Roger Goodman who, along with his brother Doug, traced Alec’s life on the Somme. After making all their research available to historians through the archives at The Imperial War Museum, Alec's story has featured in several books. Through one of these books contact was made by the son of a private soldier, Vern Wilkinson, who served alongside Alec. He had read a book featuring Alec and remembered seeing the name in his father's wartime diary. Alec's family had always known the time and place where he died but not how. In his diary Vern wrote: ‘We were happy when we knew definitely what time the ‘kick off’ was, uncertainty made one nervous and irritable. We attempted a little breakfast in the early hours but the jam tasted of paraffin so we gave it up. A substantial rum ration however soon satisfied us, there was actually some rum to spare as some of the lads would not participate as they wished to have all their senses about them when the great time came. Others were quite merry and personally I had consumed plenty... At last ‘zero’ came (6.20am) and the guns that had quietened towards the dawn broke out with a terrible clatter as they put down one of the terrible barrages that made advancing much easier for the infantry. We clambered over the top of the parapet and were immediately met with a murderous machine gun fire, some of my pals falling at once...

INFORMATION The Somme is about 90 minutes drive from Calais and DFDS Seaways has daily crossings from Dover. The Historial de la Grande Guerre Albert Museum Beaumont Hamel memorial park Commonwealth War Graves Commission Photos: far left: Doug Goodman; centre left: family photo shows Alec Reader; top: Doug and family members lay a weath at Thiepval; left: Alec Reader with pals. ...Young Reader fell at the side of me with a groan and blood rushed from a wound in the head. I just turned to glance at him and could see that death was instantaneous and so passed that cheerful spirited lad to whom everything was ‘very cosy.’’ Alec’s story is a poignant one as he was waiting to return to England. Those who had joined as underage (18 was the minimum age for joining up) could be reclaimed by their parents and had the choice of being repatriated. However, Alec’s father’s request was delayed due to administrative issues and before Alec could return home the Battle of Flers- Courcelette began. Alec was buried near the north-west corner of High Wood but due to continued fighting the details of the place of burial was lost and Alec is listed as one of the missing of the Somme; his name appears on the Thiepval monument. On the morning of 15 September 2016, 100 years to the day he died, Alec’s family and two researchers made a pilgrimage to High Wood where they laid a wreath on the 47th (London) Division Memorial. They held a private ceremony before joining a memorial service at the Thiepval monument where three generations of the Goodman family, Doug, his nephew Paul and great-nephew Charles laid a wreath on behalf of Alec’s family. "This ‘cheerful spirited lad, to whom everything was very cosy’ will never be forgotten and his short life will continue to be remembered for generations to come" said Doug Goodman. High Wood as returned to its natural state and it's estimated that the remains of several thousand British and German troops are still there as the area was never cleared of munitions. In total around 8000 deaths occurred in the square km. of private wood during the Somme Battle that lasted from July to November 1916. High Wood was the scene of the last cavalry charge and the first tank attack.

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