Monday, July 21, 2014

another sort of garden

As I neared Calais, my route passed through war country, the old battlefield zone of World Wars I and II.  Here my gardens changed somewhat, to gardens of remembrance.  I hadn’t planned to stop and visit such important monuments this trip and certainly wasn’t prepared for the impact they had.

Tears welled in my eyes when I caught sight of the headstones.  I sat on the steps and cried and cried before walking the gardens, tears arriving again and again.  I was amazed by the force of emotion as I thought that I had been prepared for what I was about to see.  Thousands of headstones in neat rows of light grey stone.  Each one a dead soldier, or as I was to discover as I read some of the inscriptions later on, sometimes up to four soldiers per grave.  All men, nearly all young, in their teens and twenties, sent to war,  as far as we are told, for the greater good of the western world.  

I had learned of the wars at school and then frequently through day to day life, as I imagine we all do.  The book ‘Birdsong’ graphically illustrated the brutality, futility and carnage of the First World War in graphic detail.  A captivating and moving book that I unfortunately took to read on holiday, it kept me in a sombre mood for the duration of the read and has left lasting impressions of how dire the war was for everyone involved.

Both cemeteries that I visited were relatively small compared to some of the war memorials of Normandy, but overwhelming none the less.  When the war machine was murdering thousands upon thousands of men a day at times it is hard to imagine the numbers.  Here, the sheer scale of loss becomes imaginable, very real and close.  These were only the British dead too, there must be millions of French, returned to their home towns and villages, where possible, to rest in peace plus those of the German armies, also repatriated and laid to rest for their loved ones to remember. I know nothing of the plight of the German dead, whose numbers were colossal too.

It moves me now, close to tears, just writing this piece and thinking of the loss.  Look at the photos, for every stone a son, a brother, a nephew, a father, a friend.  Loved by all who knew them and never seen again.  Just gone, a hole in a family, a missing member of a team, a best friend gone for ever, imagine that, for each and every stone, here and then again for all the other cemeteries and in towns and villages across europe and, in fact, most countries of the world.

It leads me to think of the cost of war? the impact on our families and societies? the loss of kindred folk, of natural human resources, of the destruction of trust and hatred that it brings.  Who are we as a supposedly clever, logical and highly evolved species to bring this on ourselves again and again?  We obviously aren’t yet capable of finding peaceful solutions as wars continue with alarming frequency and ferocity around our planet.  I have no solutions, it just leads me to think.......

Etaples Military Cemetery

about a quarter of the graves

in perfect symmetry

Terlincthun British Cemetery

not even a name between the four brave souls who rest here

a smaller site but just as moving

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

…my great aunt…when tasked to supply the words for her father's grave in France asked for
" there shall be no more death" …this was 14/10/18…..oh that her words could have been true….
it makes me emotional seeing on tv or reading about these places… have seen them for real must have been overwhelming…xxxx
Moi x