Friday, June 05, 2015

Just a statistic

Hi,

Picture, if you will, a long copse of trees, a small car park and cool blue skies. It's a short walk across a quiet road, into the shade of the woods and a soft, yet bright hello from a guide. You listen to the introduction about the museum, and the advice to wait for a school trip to finish. You wander on, curious to see the lay of the land. You walk along the gravel path, its stones grinding underfoot as you reach a tallish island of stacked rocks, amidst the meadow grass.

There's a statue on top of the rocks, perhaps a moose, or an elk. It's too big to be a reindeer. Numerous signs are dotted around and there's a stillness to the place. Of the few people about, they move slowly, taking it all in. Voices don't carry here. Not even the soft whisper as a couple pass.

It's a beautiful quiet. That detachment you rarely find in the modern world. Maybe a library, somewhere deep inside the stacks, where the hubbub of the coffee shop, or distant traffic is lost. That spell of silence you don't want to break. Even the kids are quiet.

To your right, away from the trees and on the cusp of a hill dropping into a valley, there are some odd bumps in the ground. Soft, gentle curves covered by grass and the start of Spring's bloom. They criss-cross and dip into the ground. A little deeper than a ditch and definitely man made.

These are the trenches from the First World War. The Somme.

You walk along the pea-gravel path, finding the turn, along the winding spiral to the statue. Up and round you walk, taking in all of the park and a long, wide view over the valley. A sign tells you about the Newfoundland army who were based here. Men who went over the top, when the whistles blew. Over they went, down into the open, barren hell that was No Man's Land. Deep into the drop, before the hill that marked the German lines.

You return you gaze to the plaque and re-read the line you've just read. Around 100 men remained from the initial advance of just under 800. Many didn't even reach the half way mark, of the broken tree..... and this. It's just one battle.

"Tread softly here! Go reverently and slow!
Yea, let your soul go down upon its knees,
And with bowed head and heart abased strive hard
To grasp the future gain in this sore loss!
For not one foot of this dank sod but drank
Its surfeit of the blood of gallant men.
Who, for their faith, their hope,—for Life and Liberty,
Here made the sacrifice,—here gave their lives.
And gave right willingly—for you and me."
~ John Oxenham (1852-1941)



Atop the monument, under the gaze of the caribou, I held the Ever Lovely Mrs J as she cried. She wasn't the only one. I cried because of the deaths, because of those who fought to keep other safe and because my family - my loved ones - are still here. I appreciate this may read a little 'War Porn', or misery lit, but to say that cheapens it, would be to say Greece owes the IMF a few bob.

We don't have any family from Newfoundland. My great-grandfather fought elsewhere. He was 27 when he was killed. My Gran didn't speak of him. But then, why would she and would I, as a child, have asked? I doubt it. The 80s may have had the end of the Cold War, but that was a distant thing. As a kid, I couldn't - or didn't want to - imagine the loss of a parent. Let alone a dozen, or a hundred people killed.

If emotion is the cement of memory, then that day out to Beaumont Hamel will not leave me. Later, when I talked about this with my Dad, he sighed gently and said: "perhaps a few politicians should go." Then, as we're British, we had a cup of tea and talked about the weather. :-)

Take care,
Lynn
x

8 comments:

  1. If you have visted a UK war cemetery, you should have visted a German one as well, even in death there are still differences. Some people get individual white marble graves while others get somber black markers

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    1. There were a few German graves in the cemeteries we visited. I think, it's as much a disaster - if that's the right word - for all sides. When we got home, I did a bit of Internet research, to see how German people view WW1.

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  2. It was a disaster from everybody and we are still living with the end results.

    In a German war cermetry you get grave pits 10-20 men burried together, in a uk one, its one grave each, even the unknown ones.

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    1. The Great War has certainly cast a long shadow over Europe. :-( I wish we were all a little more aware of the terrible effects war has, but then, people aren't like that are they?

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    2. I wish we were all a little more aware of the terrible effects war has, but then, people aren't like that are they?

      Sadly not. Indeed, one thing that always shakes my faith in humanity is the way that a leader's popularity among their subjects always seems to skyrocket whenever they involve their country in a (usually pointless) war. Whenever that happens, I find myself thinking that those who think the war in question is such a great idea should be the first ones sent off to fight in it!

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    3. And then, there are times when you look at certain terrible events and no 'peace keepers' are deployed. Is a war ever justified? There's a quick question with a long answer. :-)

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  3. Although I haven't visited the sites of any World War I battles myself, my parents saw a few during various trips to Europe, and said (just as you did) that traces of the old trenches can still be found at them. Sort of surprising given how long ago those battles would be now.

    The 80s may have had the end of the Cold War, but that was a distant thing. As a kid, I couldn't - or didn't want to - imagine the loss of a parent. Let alone a dozen, or a hundred people killed.

    Funnily enough, in my own case, the Cold War always seemed uncomfortably close, due to the fact that nowhere on Earth would probably have been safe had the two superpowers engaged in a full-on nuclear exchange. A lot of the "hot" wars being fought during the '80s also made that decade a scary one to grow up in, though that might just be me - I tended to worry about pretty much everything I saw on the news as a kid! Admittedly, I was never really worried about losing a parent or other family member in a war, though I was surprised to learn, years after the event, that my father had been really scared when the Falklands War had been going on, as he was still in the army then (he served in Vietnam before I or any of my siblings was born), and feared he might be called up again if the aforementioned conflict escalated and started involving other countries. Seems sort of funny in hindsight, though at the time I suppose no-one knew what might end up happening!

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    1. Over 100 years, I guess and it's a long shadow over Europe.

      As to the Falklands, larger wars have had smaller starts. Thankfully, it didn't escalate. To echo your earlier comment about leaders rattling the sabre, I see a few South American governments still grumbling over those islands..... and the associated resources under Antarctica. :-P

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