17th March 2014
Filming in the Somme
It has been a really busy two weeks as things really hot up before we go on site at Chelsea next month. Last week I was out in France filming with two film crews the Soldiers Charity are making a film about the development of the garden and the BBC has also decided to make a short film about the inspiration and creation of my No Man’s Land garden at Chelsea.
We were a large group for the Soldiers Charity film, in addition to the film crew and myself, we had one of the beneficiaries of the Soldiers Charity, Chris Parrot who is a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan and will be helping me build and plant the garden. He was wounded twice while on duty over in Helmand Province with the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, the second time he was wounded in the head and had shrapnel in his brain which meant that he was medically discharged from the Army.Â Since then, the Soldiers Charity has supported him through a horticulture course.
I wanted to return to some of the key areas which have inspired the show garden at Chelsea. The first was the spot on which my Grandfather, Rupert Cary went over the top at 7.30am on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.Â He managed to get as far as the German front line but was shot through the chest and then had the challenge of getting back to the safety of the British front line through the onslaught of German guns and mortars. He and a young soldier got back, though 20,000 others were not so lucky that day.
Not far from this spot, we also went to a very special place called the Tambour, so called as this is French word for drum and when three British mines were detonated under the German lines on the same morning, 1st July, it sounded like a drum roll. The Tambour is not normally accessible as it is privately owned by a wonderful local farmer who unusually allowed us in to film. This small hidden area is pitted with three very large mine craters, tunnelling and former German trenches and is now characterised by undulating grass covered mounds which formed the inspiration for some of the main features of my No Man’s Land garden. Prunus trees in full blossom are all over the area and chalky outcrops puncture the green of the landscape with pale cream
We also went to Thiepval to film at the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme where I found amongst the names carved into the walls, Private Frederick Tourle who I know from my Grandfather’s memoirs was his Batman and died on the first day of the Battle of Somme. The memoirs note that Tourle always rubbed oil into my Grandfather’s boots at the end of each day on duty which kept the leather supple and comfortable, a great asset in trench warfare.
While there, we went to the wonderfully reconstructed trenches in Thiepval Woods where both JRR Tolkein and Edmund Blunden fought during World War One. Blunden recalled his time in these trenches in his famous poem Thiepval Woods which can be found at the end of my diary.
Here both Chris Parrot and I were filmed together talking, he about his experiences in the war in Afghanistan and how it might have compared with the experiences of soldiers in the trenches and I about how the shape and form of the front line trench informed my garden at Chelsea Flower Show. Though we in no sense try to recreate a trench, I have incorporated a sunken area with a tall wall with a central feature which reflects a firing step of a trench where people used periscopes to look over the parapet to No Man’s Land.
While in France we visited some of the 300 or so cemeteries in the Somme including the New Military Cemetery at Fricourt, close to the spot where my Grandfather was wounded.Â We also visited the Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery at Auchonvilliers where many men from my Grandfather’s regiment, the Middlesex, are buried. This last cemetery is particularly poignant as it is piece of England with 82 graves within a small walled site in a prominent position on top of a wonderful hill close to the Hawthorn Ridge crater and with a view across the Sunken Road towards three other small cemeteries along the British Front Line of 1stJuly 1916.
The tired air groans as the heavies swing over, the river-hollows boom;
The shell-fountains leap from the swamps, and with wildfire and fume
The shoulder of the chalkdown convulses.
Then the jabbering echoes stampede in the slatting wood,
Ember-black the gibbet trees like bones or thorns protrude
From the poisonous smoke past all impulses.
To them these silvery dews can never again be dear,
Nor the blue javelin-flame of the thunderous noons strike fear.