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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Diary of a Somme marcher: day one
Neil McGurk is retracing the footsteps of his grandfather and two great-uncles on a march marking the 90-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

27 JUNE: SERRE TO AUCHONVILLERS

I'm here as a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps, the RAMC. There are different units represented here, various different infantry units and a couple of artillery officers.

Neil McGurk (left) and his great uncle William Clark
Neil McGurk (left) and William Clark, a stretcher-bearer at the Somme
For breakfast we had porridge, bacon and fried tomato. We've been eating various stews, such as carrot, ham and potato stew, bully beef; and we've been issued Huntley and Palmer biscuits to go in our packs, as emergency rations.

We set off today and I was carrying a large pack, a small pack, a water bottle, a PH helmet which is a type of gas mask and a stretcher.

It's pure coincidence that my great-uncle Corporal William Clark was also a stretcher-bearer at the Somme.

We're carrying a fair bit of weight, our uniforms are made of wool. I arrived on Sunday - it constantly rained that day and now it's still cloudy and an awful lot warmer, so it's starting to get a bit warm marching.

Marchers' route map

We only did about three miles today, but each day we're doing longer and longer - and on Friday we're doing about nine miles.

The local people are taking more and more interest the longer we're here. They find it a little bit strange, seeing all these unusually dressed British people marching around their villages.

There are also quite a few British people here already who didn't necessarily know about the march. They came here to find graves of relatives. I've come across people from Northern Ireland, England and Wales just in the couple of days I've been here.

'What the hell are we doing here?'

My grandfather and great uncles would have thought "What the hell are we doing here?"

It's strange - this area of France just looks like English farmland to me - except for the number of cemeteries.

Of course when they were here all the area we're marching in would have been covered in trenches and redoubts, the landscape would have been pretty blasted, there would have been very few trees left.

Three men dressed as WWI soldiers
21st century Tommies have a cuppa after a hard day's march
So I'm seeing a very different landscape to them.

We've been stopping at military cemeteries along the way laying wreaths at each one.

People who know the battlefield have been making us aware as we pass of points [of interest], when we're in No Man's Land, when we're behind the German lines, when we're behind the British lines. Our march can't follow exactly the front line because it runs through various fields.

We're now at a place that the English refer to as Ocean Villas which is a Tommy corruption of Auchonvillers. We're sleeping over here tonight and we're setting off from here tomorrow for Thiepval. We'll be marching up to the monument [the largest British war memorial in the world] where my great uncle is mentioned.

That will be very strange, because I've found out so much about him recently.





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