A Message From Colonel Clive Mantel - Contalmaison Commemoration 2016

During the weekend 9-10 September, a dignified and moving commemoration took place near Albert in Northern France. The purpose was to remember the ten battalions of the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) which fought in the battle of the Somme in 1916, just over one hundred years ago. In particular, we honoured the four Green Howards who had received the Victoria Cross for their extraordinary heroism during. BBC (North) broadcast a short item the following Monday on ‘Inside Out’.

Whilst 2nd Lieutenant Donald Bell VC was the focus of the weekend, with his eye-catching memorial unveiled in the village of Contalmaison in 2000, ceremonies were also held at the graves of Private William Short VC and Major Loudoun-Shand VC. Captain Archie White VC survived WW1, later being promoted Colonel in WW2.

28 members of Donald Bell’s family attended, with some coming from as far as New Zealand and South Africa. Descendants of the family of Major Stewart Loudoun-Shand VC were also present. The Headteacher of Harrogate Grammar School, where Donald Bell was a pupil, and his deputy were present, whilst the Head Boy and Head Girl laid wooden crosses at Bell’s Redoubt.

To commemorate Donald Bell’s football career, representatives of his former club Bradford Park Avenue attended. Players from the club joined members of 1 YORKS football team to play a hard fought match against Albert, with the visitors coming out winners 3 – 2.

In addition to the footballers, the Yorkshire Regiment made a major contribution to the commemoration. Led by the Colonel of the Regiment, Brigadier Andrew Jackson, supported by Lieutenant Colonel David O’Kelly, the Band of 4 YORKS provided great music and splash of colour.

Standard Bearer Dave Wardle paraded the RHQ Standard. It was good once again to see members of Kent Branch GHA (including Standard bearer Colin Inett) and other Green Howards supporting an XIX occasion in far off fields (see the Green Howards team photo).

At Fricourt cemetery, the site of the 7th Battalion’s memorial, Brigadier John Powell gave a vivid briefing on the battle fought there. Regimental Padre Richard Cooper officiated at all the sites.

On the Saturday evening, 95 sat down for dinner in Albert. Afterwards, a Bell statuette was presented to Richard Leake, historian and author of A Breed Apart, a short book which focuses on 2 Lt Bell VC and Pte Short VC.

Finally, our thanks go to Major David Nicholson and his team for putting together this moving event over three years’ hard work. Unfortunately, almost at the last safe moment, David was unable to attend for health reasons. In his place Major Roger Chapman, a member of the planning team, stepped into the breach as master of ceremonies.

A full article will appear in the next issue of The Green Howard magazine.