Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I wept watching the two minute silence at 11am. I always do. There is something about the First World War that makes my hot tears spurt. Some years ago I visited the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. I went in touristy/aesthete mode - 'Lutyens, good, sometimes great architect. I ought to check this one out.' That didn't last the length of time it took me to get out of the car. For some reason, this object doesn't photograph well. In the brick, the Portland stone and in the sad, sad wind it overwhelms. Lutyens was a genius when he drew this. I know of no greater memorial. I wept continuously and uncontrollably. Go there.


  1. Go to Verdun as well.

  2. A stunning construction that seems to builds upon replicated versions of itself as if to achieve something greater than the sum of its parts. Perfect for what it symbolises.

  3. Did you ever see the last scene of "Oh, What A Lovely War"? John Mills, a General is walking, contemplatively along a line of white crosses. It is sad enough to see every passing reminder of one of the fallen but then suddenly the camera pulls back further and further and soon the screen is a sea of white crosses and the General has been swallowed up by them. I know it is only a film but that image has stuck in my memory for more than twenty years.
    The loss to us all, even now, of that monstrous war is unfathomable.

  4. At times like today I find myself thanking veterans who gave their lives that I might stand in silence.

  5. For me it's Tyne Cot. If one entered that place from the road, then the sweep of those panels of the missing closing down the horizon is truly shocking. They make the largest cemetery visually seem smaller.
    Given that the panels at Tyne Cot are just one of four listing those Missing in the Salient, it is beyond processing.
    Something I found a bit shocking was the absolute boring nature of the landscape these battles were being fought over. And while in my head I know that Flanders and the Somme is as flat as a pancake, somehow I was expecting something more dramatic.
    If you get a chance the Irish Tower is worth a visit.

  6. I was reading Sorley on Remembrance Day and all I can think of, seeing this, is his line: "Great death has made all his for evermore. "

  7. I agree - it's a stunning monument that works in an unfathomable way as architecture.

    Am I right in thinking that it commemorates the dead who have only a name?

    Should we not feel anger here not pity? What good are tears!?

    Does it not make you think of Owen's line about the monstrous anger of the guns?

    Or these lines by the greatest poet of the war Isaac Rosenberg:

    The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
    But pained them not,
    though their bones crunched,
    Their shut mouths made no moan,
    They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
    Man born of man, and born of woman,
    And shells go crying over them
    From night till night and now.

  8. My grandfather-in-law (is there such a title?) served in the Newfoundland Regiment and was severely wounded at the Battle of the Somme. He had tattoos done over each of his scars and would never talk about the war to anyone. He never forgave England for deserting Newfoundland and handing it over to Canada.