The day before the 100 year anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria – I returned from my week long France trip with my grandmother and uncle. Together we visited several cemeteries, both commonwealth and German, we saw the Menin Gate, the Thiepval Memorial, along with the Newfoundland Regiment memorial and the Australian one at Pozieres. Each of the places we visited, from Ypres in Belgium to Amiens and Armentieres will always hold a place in my heart.
Originally, my plan was to return from France and post a lengthy blog about my trip. It’s been over a year since I returned now and I still struggle to find the words to encapsulate that week. There have been countless books written about the first world war, there have been plays and novels inspired by it, works of art and sculpture and other creative endeavours – and yet I cannot find the words that fit my own experience. Or at least, I cannot find the words to talk about all of it at once.
Therefore, I have decided to write a series of posts about the different parts of France (and Belgium) that we saw. Snapshots, vignettes, in a sense I suppose, of a week that affected me so profoundly and so completely that I don’t believe I shall ever forget a moment of it. There are mementos that I have; several postcards, a small pin-badge, my uncle’s drawings and some pressed petals of a poppy between my notebook. I have diary entries of my own, photographs and lines of scrawled writing – epitahs that hit me particularly hard, names and dates and ages of boys (and men) that lingered long in my memory.
I have these concrete things, and yet none of them will ever quite compare to the feeling of being in France that week. Nothing will quite compare to watching the sun go down behind the Thiepval Memorial. Nothing will ever quite compare to sitting in one of the beautifully maintained graveyards in the hot, June sunshine, looking out at the rows of white headstones. Nothing will ever compare to driving down the roads in France and seeing memorial after memorial, some of them no more than a few meters away from each other. No written word or object will ever encapsulate that week in June for me.
One of the epitahs that stuck with me that summer, and has done ever since, is the one I have used to title this post. It comes from the grave of Walter Dyer. Drummer of the Norfolk Regiment.
First off, it’s been a long while since I’ve had the time to post to this blog on a regular basis; but I’m hoping that now I’ll have more of a chance to post and keep abreast of what is happening with regards to the centenary.
Secondly, I start tomorrow as a curator’s assistant at Leeds Museums and Galleries; which is something I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while now. The curator I’m working with is in charge of the First World War projects that will be happening throughout the centenary. This brings me to my next point – I will most certainly have a lot more to post about that is topically relevant rather than simply my own musings (though there will be plenty of those!).
Something which is coming up at the end of this week is an event which I have been looking forward to for a while; a workshop at the Humanities Research Institute in Sheffield. Now, I’m not normally one who is terribly over-enthused about workshops, perhaps a legacy from school of disliking group projects. This one however, is something different, the Council for British Archaeology and Historic England are working together on a project named Home Front Legacy: WWI (more information can be found here). For me, this is not something I have ever considered – the lasting remainders of the first world war being, not on the Western or Eastern fronts, but at home, a good deal closer than one might anticipate. Whilst I was in high school I was taught about the Western Front and that was all. There was little, if any information given about the Eastern front and the same with the home front.
This is partly the reason why I’m so excited about this project. The idea is to get groups of people (and individuals – so if you’re not part of a group or organisation, there’s most certainly nothing wrong with giving it a go!) to record the remains of the first world war across England. This could be the remains of a training ground or a POW camp – like there is at Colsterdale where the Leeds Pals once trained. Apparently however, this project will not be including war memorials or cenotaphs at this time as there is a separate database for these. These records of the landscape are then plotted on a map and also recorded in local archaeological records. They will go on to be used to inform local planning decisions and keep these things alive for the later generations so that they too will appreciate the fact that the war did not just affect the landscape of some far away country.
If you want to get involved; go here! It sounds like an amazing project and I can’t wait to start.