Letter: Somme visitors

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Sir: I sympathise with Joan White's concern at the proposal to set up a visitor centre at Thiepval, but also feel that she misreads the level of understanding to be found among visitors to the Somme memorial.

Probably most of the visitors are well informed or have personal reasons to understand the landscape and the events. A depressingly large number of school parties, however, arrive with only the vaguest idea why they are there, and leave with little more; the groups who need help most are the ones least likely to visit the excellent museums in Albert and Peronne. Well-presented material available to study at the actual site offers a more immediate understanding.

Many teachers know and explain the events of 1914-18 and work hard to see that their pupils understand what happened and why; but there are many who do not even warn their pupils to avoid picking up the shells and grenades which still come to the surface regularly and cause one or more deaths virtually every year. Worksheets distributed to pupils are often misleading, inadequate or plain wrong and it is not uncommon to see the coach driver acting as "guide", even if he has never visited the area before.

As long as this easily accessible area of France continues to attract a large number of people who lack basic knowledge or guidance, there will be a need for a modest and sensitively designed visitor centre.

HELEN McPHAIL

Shrewsbury

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