July 1 1916, The Somme. The Danger Tree had been designated an assembly point, and the wire cut there to allow troops through and on to attack the German lines. The heaviest casualties on the field occurred at the Danger Tree. The first brigade that went in, the 87th, were immediately cut down, to be followed by the 88th. Every officer who went forward was either killed or wounded. Casualties in the 29th Division 1 July amounted to 223 officers and 5,017 other ranks.
“Men were mown down in waves, and the gaps cut the night before were a proper trap for our boys as the enemy just set the sights of the machine guns on the gaps in the barbed wire and fired.”
Doggedly, the survivors continued on towards The Danger Tree. “The only visible sign that the men knew they were under this terrific fire,” wrote one observer, “was that they all instinctively tucked their chins into an advanced shoulder as they had so often done when fighting their way home against a blizzard in some little outport in far off Newfoundland”.**
From a plaque at the Memorial site:
Tread softly here! Go reverently and slow!
Yea, let your soul go down upon its knees,
And with bowed head and heart abased strive hard
To grasp the future gain in this sore loss!
For not one foot of this dank sod but drank
Its surfeit of the blood of gallant men.
Who, for their faith, their hope,—for Life and Liberty,
Here made the sacrifice,—here gave their lives.
And gave right willingly—for you and me.
From this vast altar—pile the souls of men
Sped up to God in countless multitudes:
On this grim cratered ridge they gave their all.
And, giving, won
The peace of Heaven and Immortality.
Our hearts go out to them in boundless gratitude:
If ours—then God’s: for His vast charity
All sees, all knows, all comprehends—save bounds.
He has repaid their sacrifice:—and we—?
God help us if we fail to pay our debt
In fullest full and unstintingly!
John Oxenham (1852-1941)
**From: Newfoundland & The Great War
Photograph by Harry Palmer, whose work can be found at A Portrait of Canada.ca