Friday, 21 January 2011

Where it All Began

The sun shone brightly, heightening the whiteness of the stone. Summer was starting to emerge from the hope of spring and the fresh green leaves shimmered as a gentle breeze passed through them, stirring the dust from the shingle lay-by. In the relative calm of this once industrial, now somewhat neglected landscape, the peace was broken by a troupe of young boys and girls clambering from the stiffling air of the coach. Amongst this gaggle of youth was a little boy, quite short for his age, in a red cap. Not too far away was his mother, who had accompanied this school party as a parent-helper. That young boy was me, the place was the Loos Memorial at Dud Corner Cemetery, it was June 1992. This is my first memory of visiting a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, I was there to see the name of my Great-great Uncle Thomas Wilson as part of my school's annual pilgrimage to the Western Front battlefields.

I have been back several times since, but I will never forget that first time. It was the single most impacting experience of my life and has shaped everything that I am since. This is the power of these cemeteries, they resonate through the generations. The architecture, with its often stark contrasts between red brick and Portland stone, burns its shapes onto one's memory. Part of that power is the sense of scale, part of it is the underlying sadness. Something so vast, so permanent, that seems to have stopped time within those walls cannot fail to be impacting, but, for me, the most powerful element is the uncanny sense of home. The seamless use of architecture and horticulture creates the sense of place, that place is an eternal vision of the halcyon pre-war days. An attempt to capture something of the dappled shades of that last glorious summer before the carnage of war engulfed Europe in the darkest shadow. It is the encapsulation of the English rural idyll.

There are a number of books and websites that deal with the founding of the then Imperial War Graves Commission, not least of which being I will, therefore, not dwell on this as I fear I can add no more to it than is already known. Needless to say, the project that was begun under the cloud of war and initially finished as the shadows of unrest drifted across Europe again, achieved the objective it set out to; a memorial that would ensure the remembrance of the fallen would not thin with the blood of every generation thereafter.

This post has become a slightly more embellished introduction, not my original intention, I must admit. However, I hope this post has allowed the reader to understand a little more of the direction I am coming from, even if it has not necessarily shown the direction I will be heading.


  1. I must admit although I do not share your passion for the subject, our visit to France last year and the many cemetetries we visited, I can understand your fascination with them. Obviously you expect a sense of peace within a resting place, but the beauty of many of them is overwelming.

    These men have been laid to rest in the most respectful manner and after encountering danger have now, in death, found a place of safety and serenity where their memory will live on.

  2. A subject very dear to my heart Tim

    Michelle (Y)

  3. Well said Tim. I shall follow your blog with interest!