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.