1279 – ‘Lochnagar Dragon’ – France, Somme

Capt Mervyn Jones, of Rossett Platoon, Clwyd and Gwynedd Army Cadet Force, for the last seven years, has taken cadets to the Somme, France for the 1st July commemorations marking the start of the famous WW1 battle. Glorious patriotic, altruistic endeavour or the futile waste of a generation? The truth, as ever, lies somewhere in the middle. If the Cadets can learn to come to their own objective, informed conclusions as to the nature and validity of warfare then the ACF will have fulfilled one of its foremost roles in developing the adults of tomorrow.

Over seven years you inevitably nurture excellent liaisons with your hosts at the major sites of commemorative interest and Rossett Platoon have developed a fantastic relationship with Sir Richard Dunning, the owner of the Lochnagar Crater, and leader of the Friends of the Crater support group. The crater, a sixth of a mile in diameter and 70 feet deep, still the largest earth movement ever made in anger, was formed when some 30 tons of explosive were detonated beneath the German lines at 07.28 hours on 1 Jul 1916. This occurred along the length of the Somme offensive line but, today, only one crater is open, as a site of reflection, commemoration and stark reminder of the human and topographical destruction wreaked on this area. This is entirely due to the tireless and selfless work of Sir Richard who bought the Crater in 1978 thereby saving it from the fate of the majority of other craters – infill and return to agricultural use.

Of course you don`t simply buy a crater. It sits within a parcel of land and the upkeep of the area between the crater perimeter and the boundary of the parcel of land has proved problematic for the Friends Organisation. Rossett Platoon began to assist in addressing the problem but time was short and the task thornier, pun fully intended, than anticipated.

Consequently, on 23 May 12, Cadets Bradley Burn, Daniel Jones. Adam Gardner, Sam Tipping, Jake Roberts, Michael Barnes, Luke Roberts and Jake Jones, generously sponsored by the Ulysses Trust and led, as ever, by Capt Jones set off for the Somme supported by a civilian contingent and an array of power tools. Four days later several hundred square metres of the densest undergrowth had been cleared and the vistas towards the town of Allbert and both ways along the original front line had been restored. Most gratifyingly the visual approach to the Crater has been transformed. All in all the Exercise Lochnagar Dragon exceeded its own expectations.

Whilst perhaps not fully in keeping with the adventure training ethos of the Ulysses Trust, you can be assured that pulling a wild climbing rose from a hawthorn tree poses it’s own rather unique and physically demanding challenge. Those with the scratches to prove it will testify that the chalk soil nurtures little beyond the most impenetrable hawthorn, rose and bramble combination.

The cadets had chosen a camp site some 4 miles from the project, so as to be able to walk each day to and from the site and get a feel for what it was like for the soldiers 96 years ago when they had to hike up to the front lines. The cadets camped in 2 tents, providing their own food and cooking for themselves. They had worked out their daily routine to include time to get up, eat, hike up to the crater, work for 8 hrs min each day and then hike back.

The cadets by day 3 were quite tired but full of achievement at what they had been able to achieve in such a short space of time. This would not have been possible without the help from the Ulysses Trust whose funds helped to make the Exercise a success.

Historia Vitae Magistra? History, the teacher of life. Now all we need is the Latin to represent the virtue of good, honest toil.

With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

In partnership with:

Nuffield Trust