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Last Updated: Friday, 30 June 2006, 08:03 GMT 09:03 UK
'An emotional day' at the Somme
Neil McGurk retraced the footsteps of his grandfather and two great-uncles on a march marking the 90-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. This is the last entry of his online diary.

28 JUNE: AUCHONVILLERS TO THIEPVAL

We set off from our camp yesterday and marched the six miles towards Thiepval.

We laid a wreath at the Ulster Tower, which commemorates the Ulster Division. That was where I spoke to a group of British schoolchildren. They were presented with this smelly bloke in a uniform and told, "Go on, ask him some questions"!

Neil McGurk at Thiepval
Neil contemplates the demise of his great-uncle at the Somme

They asked why I was out there, did I think I'd be as good a soldier as my uncle - without swearing I said I imagined I wouldn't be anywhere near as good a soldier as he was!

From there we marched to the Thiepval monument. I laid a wreath along with a French re-enactor who has come along as a lieutenant.

Then, while everyone else moved off to get into the shade, I was given the chance to go and find my great uncle's name on the monument.

I went to the books that are kept there - people are listed by surname - so I went to the correct place [on the monument]. The men are listed by unit and rank.

The first W Clark wasn't actually him - he was a private in the Durham Light Infantry. Then I spotted where the corporals were listed and I saw the "W Clark" which was my great-uncle.

Marchers' route map

I was glad I'd seen it. I know he will never be forgotten because his name is there, but he's gone from being a name on a piece of paper to someone real. I can put a face to him, I even know how tall he is.

Obviously I'll never know him but it's the realisation of how lucky my existence is, because my grandfather fought as well and he survived while William didn't.

My grandfather went on to have family, another generation, and I knew him for a few years whereas William didn't have any of that - and how many of the [72,000] men listed on the monument didn't have that chance either?

All those names are actually people, every single one of them is somebody's son.

So it was quite an emotional day for me, it felt very strange.

Clark W engraved at Thiepval
Finding his great uncle's name at Thiepval was an emotional moment

This march has given me a very tiny, tiny glimpse into the realities of the whole 1914-1918 experience, what British soldiers went through.

I'm not talking about the battlefield but about how tired we are - when we're marching at the earliest opportunity everyone sits down or lies down, takes off their webbing and kit.

As the days go on we're starting to look like those photos from WWI of resting soldiers, laid out on the ground or sitting.

We seem to have picked up that habit ourselves so quickly.

Of an evening there's no wild revelry because everyone knows we've go to be up at 0600, we've got to pack up a camp in three hours before we march off at 0900.

So I hope that anyone who's seen some of us daft enough to do something like this will take an interest, do what I've done and see what they can find out [about their family history] and realise this is part of British history.

Because nearly everybody has a connection with the Great War. The next generation has never known anyone who went through it.

I think I'm one of the last few who really got to know anyone who went through it.



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