Helen’s Tower – One of the first Memorials erected after WWI

The Ulster Tower Memorial is located along the D73 road, shortly before the turn to Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

Ulster Tower Memorial in Thiepval
Ulster Tower Memorial in Thiepval

It commemorates the memory of the men of the 36th Ulster Division.

They indeed attacked the Schwaben Redoubt on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The Ulster Tower was one of the first memorials to be erected after the war.

Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson indeed unveiled it on November 19, 1921.

The surrounding countryside was then still in its war state!

The Primate of all Ireland, the Moderator of the Irish Presbyterian Church and the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland dedicated the tower.

Helen’s Tower – A model for the Ulster Tower

The 21m high tower is almost a replica of Helen’s Tower in Clandeboye Estate in Bangor, County Down in Northern Ireland.

Helen's Tower in Ireland - Ulster Tower Memorial in Thiepval
Helen’s Tower in Ireland

Lord Dufferin built this tower in the 19th century in memory of his mother Helen Blackwood, Baroness Dufferin and Claneboye.

The 36th Ulster Division trained in the vicinity of Helen’s Tower in Clandeboye; the estate had indeed been converted into an army training camp.

Helen’s Tower carried a lot of symbolism!

Erecting a replica therefore seemed to be the best memorial for all the Fallen of the Ulster Division.

Lord Alfred Tennyson, one of the most applauded poets of the Victorian era, immortalized Helen’s Tower in a poem:

Helen’s tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land.
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Mother’s love in letter’d gold.
Love is in and out of time,
I am mortal stone and lime.
Would my granite girth were strong
As either love, to last as long
I should wear my crown entire
To and thro’ the Doomsday fire,
And be found of angel eyes
In earth’s recurring Paradise

Schwaben Redoubt

Thiepval area was a major German defense area located on the northern side of the British front.

Ulster Tower Memorial in Thiepval - Attack on Schwaben Redoubt 1 July 1916
Attack on Schwaben Redoubt 1 July 1916

The village was located on the top of a ridge and surrounded by a belt of marshes.

It therefore dominates the Ancre Valley and surrounding countryside for miles around.

At the beginning of the war the Germans had indeed built an extensive defense system.

They built fortified redoubts interconnected by trenches, dugouts and very deep tunnels defended by machine gun nests.

The redoubts included the Zollern redoubt near the Mouquet Farm to the northwest, the Stuff and Leipzig redoubts to the south and the Schwaben redoubt between the present Thiepval Memorial and Ulster Tower.

These were positioned half way downhill and along a 2km line.

They improved and strengthened these defense over the following months.

Ulster Tower Memorial - Ulster Tower (A) and Thiepval Memorial at the bottom of the photo- Some trenches' layout still visible - Schwaben redoubt was located in top right field
Ulster Tower (A) and Thiepval Memorial at the bottom of the photo- Some trenches’ layout still visible – Schwaben redoubt was located in top right field

This defense system included also additional machine guns posts in the cellars of Thiepval houses, and turned the village into an impregnable fortress.

The Schwaben redoubt was the most fortified and impressive of all.

German troops from Swabia (a southwestern region of Germany) built it early 1915.

The Schwaben Schanze (Swabia earthworks) had deep galleries that linked it to the Zollern redoubt near the front line trenches and the village of Thiepval.

The main objective of the Battle of Thiepval Ridge was obviously to seize the ridge.

However, to do so, the Allies needed to neutralize these redoubt.

July 1, 1916

The British Commonwealth troops’ front line was at the edge of the Thiepval Woods.

The trees grew on the hillside opposite the road to Thiepval, and at the rear of Connaught Cemetery.

The men of the 109th Brigade advanced on 120m of no man’s land.

Ulster Tower Memorial in Thiepval - Attack on Schwaben Redoubt 1 July 1916
Attack on Schwaben Redoubt 1 July 1916

They entered the Schwaben redoubt and kept advancing on Stuff redoubt, recovering about 1,5km on the German lines.

The 108th Brigade, however, encountered more difficulty in their advance towards Thiepval village, despite the support provided by the 107th Brigade.

The men of the 36th Division succeeded in resisting the German fierce counter attacks.

However, they eventually found themselves short of ammunition and bombs and ended up trapped in the German lines.

The casualties suffered by the 36th Division were once more astronomical; 5000 soldiers were indeed killed during the July 1, 1916 offensive.

Ulster Tower Memorial

The commemorative plate by the entrance to the Ulster Tower Memorial was unveiled in 1951.

It commemorates the memory of the 9 soldiers, who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the Battle of the Somme.

Another memorial pays tribute to the members of the Orange Order involved in the battle.

It is engraved with the following dedication:

“This Memorial is Dedicated to the Men and Women of the Orange Institution Worldwide, who at the call of King and country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of man by the path of duty and self sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in Freedom.

Let those who come after see to it that their names be not forgotten.”

A flagpole placed by the entrance flies the Union Jack.

Members of the Somme Association look after the Ulster Tower Memorial.

The association bought the 58-acre Thiepval Wood from where the 36th Division launched the assault.

The Somme Association guides take groups of visitors through the trenches that are already excavated and restored in the woodland.

The various artifacts and personal objects recovered from the ground are exhibited in the Ulster Tower Memorial.

The excavations are going on.

I understand that more trenches will be open to the public, once they have been thoroughly excavated and secured.

The surrounding countryside bears no scar of the fierce fighting that took place a century ago.

All that was kept are the Leipzig redoubt farther downhill from Thiepval Memorial and the Thiepval Wood trenches.

However, the layout of the trenches can still be seen on aerial views, as they crisscross the cultivated fields.

Department of Somme – Picardie – Hauts de France region
Coordinates: Lat 50.060772 – Long 2.679814

Photos via Wikimedia Commons:  Helen’s Tower  CC BY-SA 2.0 –  Attack on Schwaben Redoubt aerial view  Public Domain  –  Attack on Schwaben Redoubt 1 July 1916 map and Battle of the Somme  Public domain – Aerial view Thiepval sector via Google Maps

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