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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

The Somme Remembered - Heaton Park

Famous California Car 765 adorned with period posters awaiting entry into service on July 1st 2016.

Individual tributes in clay tiles to loved ones fallen at the Somme battle - laid out in Heaton Park on June 30, 2016. July 1 2016 - Centenary of the Battle of the Somme which saw bloodletting on an industrial scale along a few miles of the Western Front over an extended four months in 1916. Cities, towns and small communities throughout the United Kingdom (including Ireland); as well as Commonwealth/Empire Dominions saw a continuing flow of telegraph traffic to individual homes bearing the sombre news of the death of a loved one : a father, brother, son, husband. And In many cases all 'Pals' from the same street, factory or trade.

Manchester remembers the awful price paid in lives given by men of all ages in that city's 'Pals Battalions' raised as part of Kitcheners New Army from 1915. Its remembrance takes several forms including a Memorial Concert in Heaton Park amid rain drenched grassland - appropriate to the mud sodden morass through which Battalions slowly marched into German machine gun fire. The Germans too paid a high price under an extended artillery barrage on their front and rear trenches, as well as through the huge explosions caused by mines laid deep under their front line. The French contributed an equal measure of life lost in a small pocket of northern France forever known as 'The Somme'. In all a million men were slaughtered, maimed or lost forever in a futile battle that gained little territorially but embedded its name on European history.

The City of Manchester paid its own tribute to the sacrifices of many families from this part of Britain - with a poignant pathway of individual tiles marking out the names and profile of individual men of all ranks (and some women). Laid on the green verdant grass of the parkland each tile represents a personal tribute from later generations recalling the valour of a family member in 1916. Quite an impressive sight recalling the field of poppies which vividly showed up the immense loss of life at a tribute last year in London.

The Heaton Park Tramway paid its own tribute with specially decorated trams including open top 173 - then a common sight in Manchester during the Great War. Some images from both tributes taken earlier in the day. It is a pity that Blackpool's heritage tram team could not consider its own simple tribute with one of the early trams in its collection - given that the heritage tours commence with in a few yards of Blackpool's War Memorial to the town's Fallen. In fact Blackpool's trams played their own role in providing special services to the large Military Convalescent Hospital set up at the Squires Gate 'Racetrack' later the airport. Here soldiers recuperated from wounds on the Western Front before being sent back to their units (or discharged). The town's trams along Lytham Road provided a means for many to 'enjoy' the delights of Blackpool in all seasons - subject to their condition. The Tramways Department laid on toastrack tram tours around the town as a break from their enforced confinement and much else. We are talking about events in living memory. My own grandfather was captured in the raid on Zeebrugge while another close relative broke down when he recalled his own role as a machine gunner on the Western Front when we visited him in Blackburn before he died in the 1970s.

Below : Number 173 with special features on static display at Heaton Park. Tram systems throughout the UK (including Blackpool) found their recruiting targets were aided by such moving displays. The appeal to patriotism and glory would soon be lost when the reality of trench warfare quickly took hold on arrival in France or in that small corner of Flanders fields.

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