Saturday, July 23, 2016

HGB Ep. 138 - Battle of the Somme

Moment in Oddity - The Legend of Crybaby Bridge
Suggested by: Listener Brittany Cox

Several cities in Oklahoma claim to be home to an urban legend known as Crybaby Bridge. The tale seems to have been almost inspired by the Mexican legend of La Llorona that we have detailed on the podcast before. People who have visited the various bridges claiming to be Crybaby Bridge, say that they hear the wails of babies when they visit the bridge at night. There are two stories related to the legend. The first is that a woman was traveling across the bridge in her car with her infant child in the backseat. She had a horrible car wreck and both she and the baby were killed. People claim to hear the cries of the baby when they park on the bridge and turn off the engine. Others report that they see the glowing figure of a female ghost walking along the creek below the bridge looking for her baby. On occasion, the car will fail to start when visitors are ready to leave the bridge. The other story dates to the late 1940s. A family that lived deep in the woods near the bridge had a horrible secret. The father had been raping the daughter and he impregnated her several times. After each of the births, the daughter would throw the babies off the bridge into the creek, which has been named as North Boggy Creek. The legend goes that if you stand on the edge of the bridge you can hear the babies crying. No one knows for sure if one of the decrepit bridges on Oklahoma's back roads or one of the newer bridges that has replaced an older bridge is the actual Crybaby Bridge or if the bridge even actually exists. But if the Crybaby Bridge does exist, it certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Hale-Bopp Comet Discovered

On this day, July 23rd, in 1995, two amateur astronomers discovered the Hale-Bopp Comet. Those two amateur astronomers were Alan Hale, who was in New Mexico, and Thomas Bopp, who was in Arizona. Both men had trained their telescopes on globular cluster M70. They noticed a fuzzy object and after observing it for a while, they realized it was moving and so had to be a comet. Both Hale and Bopp sent their observations to the International Astronomical Union's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. According to NASA, this comet was the farthest comet ever to be discovered by amateurs. The comet only got as close as 120 million miles away from the Earth, but it was so bright it could be seen by the naked eye. The comet circled behind the sun and then began moving farther and farther away. It won't return for another 2,300 years. Hale-Bopp was the most photographed comet in history. A tragic footnote to the comet's visit were the suicides of several members of a cult. That cult was Heaven's Gate and it was an end times type cult headed by Marshall Applewhite. They believed some kind of alien spacecraft was following the comet and that it was coming to rescue them from the Earth. Unfortunately, Applewhite brainwashed his followers into believing that in order to make that transition, they needed to die so their spirits could leave their bodies, pass through Heaven's Gate and board the spaceship. They drank a lethal cocktail of alcohol mixed with Phenobarbital. Applewhite and 38 of his followers died.

Battle of the Somme (Suggested by and researched by Bob Sherfield)

The Battle of the Somme began on July 1st 1916, one hundred years ago this month, and it lasted until the 18th of November. This was the defining battle of the first world war and the very first day of this clash was the bloodiest in the history of the British Army. Hundreds of thousands would lose their lives in the four months of fighting. This was a campaign fought between the German and British empires and the Battle of the Somme has been called the beginning of modern all-arms warfare. The bloodshed is similar to the Gettysburg and Antietam battles during the American Civil War and as we have found with the locations where these meetings took place, the Battle of the Somme battlefield is reputed to be incredibly haunted. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Battle of the Somme!

World War I was the first global conflict in human history and it began in 1914. The trigger that started the conflict was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. The war involved Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire on one side and Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Japan and the United States on the other. The tactics of this war, which included the use of war machines and trenches, led to carnage beyond belief. By the time the war ended in 1918, nine million soldiers and seven million civilians had died. When the war ended, national borders were redrawn and empires had fallen. One of the key battles of this war - and by far the bloodiest - was the Battle of the Somme. *Fun fact: Pigeons were used as a form of communication during this battle and World War I in general*

By the time of the battle, the bulk of the British Army was made up of the volunteer forces of the Territorial Force and Lord Kitchener’s New Army. This was because the majority of the forces enlisted at the beginning of the war had been lost during the battles of 1914 and 1915. This new recruitment led to a rapid expansion of the British force and a need for senior commanders and specialists, bringing many officers out of retirement as well as inexperienced newcomers. The swift increase had the effect of reducing the levels of experience within the army, as well as creating an acute shortage of equipment. On the British side, soldiers were drawn from across the Empire, including Australia, Bermuda, Canada, India, Newfoundland, New Zealand, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia and  the U.K. The French would join the British in this offensive. It's important to note that a sadder aspect of recruitment developed at this time. As part of the recruitment process to bolster the British forces, General Kitchener had promoted the "Pals Battalions." These battalions were groups of men all from the same town fighting together. This meant individual communities could be hit hard. The 11th East Lancashire battalion, known as the Accrington Pals, sent 720 men into action on that first day of the Battle of the Somme. 584 would be recorded as casualties.

To understand the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, we need to understand the psychology going on behind the scenes with the British commanders. General Sir Douglas Haig was the Commander in Chief of the War and Sir Henry Rawlinson was the commander of the Fourth Army, which was the main army in charge at the Somme. Rawlinson had made a major mistake in a previous battle and Haig saved him from being sacked, so Rawlinson felt trapped when it came to following Haig's plan. He knew it was unrealistic. That strategy for the opening day, was to attack both the German front and second line, which was not a typical plan. Particularly because the German line was located at a great distance from the British line. It was nearly impossible to get the artillery to hit the second line. To add to this, the German second line was hard to see because it was behind a hill. This made it so the guns were firing blind.

Another issue for the British was that the French forces were not what they should have been because they had been engaged by the Germans at the Battle of Verdun. This battle of attrition took place just prior and during the Somme and made it so that the French were in the role of support at the Somme, rather than power. This changed the thought that the Battle of the Somme would be a decisive battle. There was hope that the Germans could be kept in Verdun to help the Russians be successful with the Brusilov Offensive. Although things would not go well for Britain, enough of a blow would be dealt to Germany to make a difference. Many German officers would be lost, making it difficult for Germany to be on top again during the rest of the war.

Prior to the attack on the morning of July 1st, British artillery had spent five days using their 18-pounder field guns to bombard the German trenches, which stretched along a 15 mile front. The goal was to cut the barbed wire which covered the areas between the opposing trench positions, and neutralizing the German artillery. Over those five days, more than 1.5 million shells were fired. Another 250,000 shells would be launched July 1st and this bombardment was able to be heard in London, some 165 miles away. With the zero hour for the battle set for 07:30, at 07:28 British forces detonated a series of 19 mines along the length of the German front, with the aim that they would disrupt or destroy German defenses and provide shelter for the advancing troops. These mines ranged in size, from the smallest at 500lb, through to the mine known as Lochnagar. This mine, placed at a depth of 52ft, consisted of 60,000lb of explosive. When detonated it created a crater 450ft across and threw a column of dirt to a height of nearly 4000ft.

Lochnager Crater

Lochnager Crater

The first day of the battle was a success for the French and the British forces to the South of the battle, however the British infantry attacking in the Northern sector suffered a huge defeat. They suffered 57,000 casualties, of which 19,000 were killed. The Germans had weathered the artillery fire in deep trenches. When the 100,000 British troops started to advance on the German lines, they were mown down by rifle and machine gun fire. As the first phase of the battle continued, offensive operations continued along the length of the valley, all increasing the casualty numbers, some more notably than others. On the 4th of July, Britain suffered another 25,000 casualties as they engaged in bloody hand to hand fighting in an attempt to take Mametz woods and the surrounding forest.

South African troops took and held Delville Woods - or as it would come to be known Devil's Woods - on July 15th with 3000 soldiers of the 1st South African Brigade. German forces unleashed a series of brutal counter attacks, consisting of artillery and machine gun fire. The terrible weather turned the wood into a muddy grave yard, but despite the odds, the South Africans held their ground. By July 20th, only 143 men were left alive. The Battle of Fromelles, which took place from the 19th to 20th of July, saw the introduction of Australian forces onto the Western Front, and is know as “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history.” Of the 7,000 British casualties, 5,500 were from the Australian 5th division. The battle was meant to be a subsidiary attack, but the preparations were rushed and the troops involved were inexperienced in trench warfare. The strength of the German defences was gravely underestimated, with the defending Germans having twice as many troops as the attacking British forces. This engagement marked the end of the first phase of the battle.

As we have seen, the Battle of the Somme was a series of skirmishes that were their own separate battles or confrontations. The second phase of the battle took place between July 14th and the 15th of September and saw the largest counter attack by the Germans. Other than the battle taking place at Delville Woods, there were three other battles that would occur during this second phase: Pozières Ridge, Guillemont and Ginchy The Battle of Ginchy, which saw the French forces make their biggest attack of the Battle of the Somme, helped the British side capture more ground and inflicted around 130,000 casualties on the Germans.

The third phase of the battle began in September and lasted until November. During that time, the Battle of Flers-Courcelette had Canadian and New Zealand divisions enter the fighting for the first time, and tanks were introduced at this time as well. As the fighting continued through September, into October and November, the increasingly bad weather began to delay and restrict the abilities of both sides to continue the fighting. The battles that occured during this time were: Morval, Transloy Ridges, Thiepval Ridge, Ancre Heights and Ancre. After the end of the Battle of Ancre, which took place 13-18 November, a lull occurred that lasted until Jan 1917 as the armies concentrated on enduring and surviving in the rain, snow, fog, mud fields, waterlogged trenches and shell-holes.

While the Battle of the Somme had no definitive outcome, it did have a lasting effect on the British and German armies. A German officer wrote “Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word.” Those British troops who survived the battle, went from being inexperienced volunteers to soldiers capable of conducting mass industrial warfare. The German forces, despite mostly holding their ground, suffered losses that would have a greater impact. The troops it lost were those who had been trained pre-war, and they were no longer able to replace them like for like, thus reducing their abilities on the battlefield. The German Army was exhausted by the end of 1916, with loss of morale and the cummulative effects of attrition and frequent defeats, causing it to collapse in 1918. This process began at the Somme.

There are more than 250 military cemeteries located across the battlefields of the Somme, marking the final resting places for thousands of the dead. These cemeteries range in size from a few headstones located close to where men fell, to those containing several thousand graves. There are many headstones engraved simply with “A soldier of the Great War, Known unto God,” a phrase suggest by Rudyard Kipling. French graves and ossuaries also dot the landscape, and the German dead are located beneath grey headstones, often in plots containing around four individuals or in mass graves know as “Kameradengraben.” (Comrades Grave)

The Battle of the Somme lasted 141 days. Total losses were staggering: 794,238 British and French soldiers were lost, with the German empire losing 537,918. Apart from the Battle of Stalingrad, no other battle has had more casualties than the Somme. This was also one of the first battles to be fought in the air as well as on the ground, with 782 aircraft destroyed. It also saw the first use of tanks. By the end of the battle, British and French forces had managed to advance 6 miles. Bob had said to us, "I was thinking about what you said about comparing it to Gettysburg etc, and it occurred to me that one battle lasted 3 days and changed the course of a nation, the other lasted 4 months had little positive outcome, other than loss of life."

Such bloodshed on the field of battle is tragic and this seems to lead to battlefields being haunted. The Somme Battlefield is no different. It is considered one of the most haunted battlefields in the world. Diane heard on a podcast that men who spoke of the battle shared the experience of the ground being soft because it was just a thin layer of dirt thrown over dead bodies. Arms and legs were still seen in some places. So many bodies probably did not receive proper burials and there were many mass graves.

There was an area of the battlefield called No Man's Land. During the early hours of the 5th of November in 1916, German forces were targeting their fire on trenches held by the British 2nd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, when, as reported by Captain Newcome, something unusual occurred. He reported that as he studied the area of no-mans land that separated the trenches he saw “a brilliant, white light” appear from the muddy ground which slowly turned into the figure of a uniformed British officer.  The figure began to walk along the length of the British trench, his faced turned towards them, as if inspecting the troops and their trenches. He then reportedly turned his gaze towards the German lines, and for a moment the barrage ceased. British flares then filled the air, as a request for their own artillery to return fire. The form was then lost in the midst of smoke and dirt. This officer who walked between the trenches, was a figure whose face was well known to the British – it was reported as being that of Lord Kitchener, who had died five months earlier after the ship he was on struck a mine and sunk while traveling to Russia.

Artist William Orpen, who had been born in Dublin, had an experience on the battlefield. He was producing artwork based on scenes from the Western front about a year after the war. He found himself among the remains of several skeletons in ragged uniforms. After painting for several hours, Orpen began to feel that he wasn't quite alone and that despite the fact that the sun was still shining, the day seemed to be darkening. Overwhelmed by feelings of dread and fear Orpen sat down on a tree trunk. As he did, he was suddenly flung backwards, hitting his head heavily on the ground. Struggling panic-stricken to his feet, he realised that his canvas had been destroyed. It too had been knocked over and the skull of a soldier had ripped through the centre. Somehow, Orpen was able to start another painting and he continued on with no further ghostly interruptions, though the sense of dread went on.

It was a short time later when Orpen found himself conversing with another Great War artist named Henri Joffroy. Joffroy mentioned that he had seen an unusual skull on the battelfield that he wanted to study closer because of a cleft in the jaw-bone. Orpen said he would drive him out and pick him up later. When Orpen arrived to pick up Joffroy, he found the man lying prone in the distance. Joffroy was stricken and said that the smell of the battlefield had made him sick. He was also upset because when he was studying the skull, he saw an eye in one of the sockets. Orpen was confused by this as the stench of the dead had long since gone, and no eyes remained in any skull.
Paranormal tours of the Somme will always include a trip to Mametz Wood, with very good reason. It is the location of most of the battlefield's ghost stories. Many locals claim to hear the eerie sound of bugle calls on the air. Sometimes, there are the sounds of battle and the screams of men dying. The vast majority of ghostly reports from Mametz Wood concern feelings of being watched, as if a thousand eyes are watching the people who walk here. Could this be the residual energy of those German troops watching as the British ran across the battlefield? People walking from Flatiron Cemetery along the track before the trees and up to the Red Dragon monument, find themselves feeling uneasy. Locals tend to avoid the area. Delville Wood is another place with hauntings. Disembodied Allied troops are seen amongst the trees. One person claims that they were walking in the wood when the hair on the back of his neck stood up and he heard a voice say, "We're still here."

Whole communities would fight as a brigade during this battle and the result was very tragic for these communities who lost so many of their young men. One of these was the then country of Newfoundland. On July 1st 1916, the whole Newfoundland Regiment were sent over the top of the hills on the Somme, which meant almost certain death. The reason why is because the brigade would need to get under barbed wire without any cover and the trenches were full of Germans. They would then have to evade machine gun fire for 750 yards. 810 Newfoundland troops went over the hill. Only 68 returned. There was a tree near the spot where the troops squeezed under the wire that they dubbed the Danger Tree. Today, visitors near that tree claim to feel an overwhelming sense of dread and depression and a need to run away quickly.

Sergeant Thomas Hunter of New South Wales, fought for the Australian forces and he managed to survive the Battle of the Somme. But he had been injured and he succumbed to those injuries in an English hospital bed on July 31st 1916 and was buried nearby. The infirmiry were he died is now the location of Peterborough Museum. There is a staircase coming off of one of thecorridors and it is here where Sergeant Hunter is seen in his ghostly form. Curators working alone in the building often hear footsteps pacing in the rooms above their heads. When they go to investigate, they always find the rooms deserted.

Do the spirits of those that lost their lives on the field of battle still remain here? Do the sounds and scents of that horrendous war still carry over into our present day? Is the Somme Battelfield haunted? That is for you to decide!

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