Peter's Travels - The First
World War Battlefields
in 2002 I heard two very different people state that two
very different experiences were "like being on the
The first comment related to a car park which had been
turned into a mud heap by the affects of too much rain and
too many vehicles on a spare piece of land. The second
referred to the state of a football pitch where a game had
to be postponed.
October neither of these comments would have had much affect
on me. All that changed, however, thanks to a short two day
visit to the First World War battlefields of Ypres and the
Somme in France and Belgium.
the battlefields are situated in peaceful rolling
countryside - the kind of insignificant scenery that
wouldn't usually command a second glance.
But amongst the peace and tranquility lie appalling
stories of degradation and waste of human life. I defy
anyone visiting the area not to return with a one word
question on their lips: "WHY?"
purely historic grounds there could be justification for the
Great War. Too many nations were positioning themselves to
dominate too few. On humanitarian grounds, however, there
can be no justification for the bloodshed that turned
peaceful hamlets such as that in the photograph on the left
into raging blood-letting which ended with thousand upon
thousand of young lives being lost.
There are literally thousands of war graves in the area I
visited in hundreds of cemeteries. Many of those buried
there were teenagers fighting for their King and country
because they believed that this would bring them a better
life than the one they left at home.
And the Somme and Ypres are just a small part of the
massive theatre that was the Great War.
I returned to Norfolk with a feeling of the futility of
it all and an anger that so many people could be mis-led
into believing that they were part of an elite fighting
force moving on towards glory when the stark reality was
that many were moving on to be simply butchered for a cause
that the politicians soon lost sight of.
read the individual graves is heart rending enough but you
only realise the size of the calamity by visiting sites such
as the Menin Gate at Ypres or the Thiepval Memorial where
the names of those missing are inscribed on the towering
It is also hard to comprehend that these names were
fathers, sons, brothers and uncles. They were living flesh
reduced to letters a few inches high - each one a life
is impossible to imagine what some of these men could have
contributed to our country had they survived and lived to
make their mark on life. How many children were never born
because of the Great War?
And of course I refer not just to the United Kingdom. Our
trip also took in the German cemetery at Langemark where
thousands of students are buried. They included students of
philosophy, medicine and the classics. How the world could
have benefited from their futures!
I have split my trip into sections to tell the story of
the visit. Follow the links below to read more.