Brian Ashton took the England World Cup Rugby squad to the Thiepval Monument on The Somme so that they might place their sport and their achievements in perspective but also give them some inspiration, no doubt, as to how they might conduct themselves in their cause, our cause, in the next six weeks. I hope they were as moved, as inspired as I am by such memorials.

The Thiepval Monument commemorates all those who died on The Somme who have no known grave. Many families in Britain can find a relation there named. The Huntsman is no exception, for my great-uncle Jack Webster, a Captain in the 1st. /4th. Battalion Royal Fusiliers, died there on 9th. September 1916 and, his body being lost, is thus commemorated on the monument (see here). It is an awe-inspiring structure and a magnet for all who would learn of the sacrifice of our forefathers to maintain the freedom and independence of our land.

I am always deeply moved by any visit to one of the many cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The scale of some, such as Tyne Cot, is almost overwhelming and it is hard to avoid shedding a tear or two. But if you should chance on one of the smaller cemeteries, and there are some very small indeed, tucked away in some quiet hollow of the Western Front, containing perhaps twenty or thirty graves, I commend a visit. They are often places of great beauty and stillness, often just a few hundred yards from the front line and thus close to where they fell. It is not hard to imagine in the mind’s eye the moment of their interment.

Here you may find the result of one individual attack with the occupants of the grave all from one regiment, probably from the same company of their Battalion and all of an age: 17, 18, 19 years old, the same ages as our sons and daughters who have just got their A level results, often with their Subaltern of like age. Perhaps they came from the same town or district and had all known each other at school and then in the months of training. On the way to France they doubtless sang and joked, drank and joshed together. Now here they lie forever. In the quiet, sweet intimacy of such a site I cannot staunch the tears that must be shed for them and for the wreck of their generation.

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