I HAVE written many times about Bradford men who lost their lives in the bloody fields of northern France - but nothing prepared me for how moving it would be to visit these sites, and the graves of such men.

I travelled to France with Bradford World War One Group to dedicate the new Bradford Pals memorial, overlooking front lines at Serre. It was here on July 1, 1916 that the Battle of the Somme began, claiming many Pals' lives.

The memorial stone, funded by the T&A Honour the Pals appeal, stands between two cemeteries on Serre Road. In Cemetery No 1 lies Arthur Greenwood, of Manningham, who died the first day of the Somme. Robert Rowland from East Bowling also went over the top on July 1, never to return. A month later, an announcement, with grainy photograph, stated in the Bradford Weekly Telegraph that he was missing. In 1927 his remains were buried at No 2 Cemetery, his identity established from shoulder badges on his uniform. Found at the same time were another soldier's remains wrapped in a waterproof sheet. Buried next to Robert, his headstone simply reads: 'Known unto God'.

In June Bradford WW1 Group will visit Serre again to lay wreaths at the Pals memorial on behalf of the Lord Mayor, and poppy crosses from local families. It is 100 years since all four Bradford battalions were on the front line simultaneously. 1917 was also the year the British shouldered a greater share of trench warfare in France. These strands will feature in the trip, open to the public, which takes in such sites as Passchendaele; Arras; Vimy Ridge; Gavrelle and Oppy Wood and Flesquieres, site of preserved tank Deborah D51.

Taking the overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge, we toured WW1 sites in Belgium and France on a Dalesman coach. Our first stop was Hill 60 near Ypres, an observation hill lost to the Germans in 1914, re-captured by a remarkable British tunnel-building and mine-laying operation. Former Bradford Grammar School boy Thomas Ellis was killed by a grenade at Hill 60. Rain lashed down as we drove past fields, and I thought of men like Thomas digging trenches quickly filling with water.

Sanctuary Wood museum is one of the few places on the Ypres Salient with an original trench layout, surrounded by shell-scorched trees. The museum offers a fascinating insight into trench life, not least graphic stereoscopic images.

Hooge Crater was one of the most heavily fired front lines, and for much of 1915 was front page news back in Britain. In July, 1915 a mine explosion caused a huge crater, marked with a monument in a cemetery where Bradford men are buried, alongside soldiers from the British West Indies Regiment. The wind whipped around us as we sought out Pals' graves and laid poppy crosses on this patch of land once blown apart by mine warfare.

En route to Arras, where we stayed for the three-day trip, we went through villages bearing reminders of the war. In one a horse trough stood by a plaque dedicated to war animals, in another an ornate facade was all that remained of a bombed church. On Serre Road, where many Bradford men are buried, we passed the dugout where Wilfred Owen wrote to his mother; an account of trench horrors that became his poem The Sentry.

Most war cemeteries we passed were French and British, but we also saw Czech and Polish graves, and a large German cemetery, eerily stark with 44,000 grey crosses. Cemeteries we visited included Dud Corner - so-called due to all the unexploded enemy shells found locally - where Bradford men are listed on the Loos Memorial, and Arras, its grand memorial rising like a temple, with Bradford names carved into the Portland stone.

At Auchonvilles we had lunch at Ocean Villas, a quirky cafe and guesthouse in an old farmhouse with a basement used during WW1 as a First-Aid station and an original trench in the backyard. And at Bus-les-Artois, where Bradford Pals were billeted in June 1916, before marching to the Somme, we saw where they played cards, enjoyed a drink and watched films in an old barn. Still visible are names and regiment numbers carved into the church walls.

We ended the trip at Ypres. It's hard to believe, wandering through re-constructed medieval buildings including the 13th century Cloth Hall and Cathedral, that the entire city was re-built after it was flattened during the war. Standing at the Menin Gate, I thought of the men heading out to the front from here - ending up as a name carved into this memorial, with no known grave.

* A coach will leave Bradford on Thursday, June 8, returning Tuesday, June 13. Call Dalesman Coaches, Guiseley, on (01943 870228) or email bradfordww1@hotmail.co.uk

The cost, for two nights aboard the ferry and three nights bed and breakfast at the Mercure Hotel, Arras, is £445 sharing, single supplement £130.