Monday, 28 March 2011

Dantzig Alley in May

In my mind I am standing in Dantzig Alley cemetery; the sun is working its way towards the horizon, casting shadows that creep over the landscape like Nosferatu’s silhouetted, outstretched fingers.

It is May, the cobalt blue of the sky hints at summer heat to come but the chill in the air reminds one very clearly it is most definitely a spring evening. I pace through the rows of stone, those nearer the top are less regimented, the result of hasty battlefield burials. As the ranks sweep down the hill they become more and more regular, perfectly poised, looking outward across the valley. The ever-changing shadows and tones of light give the stones an almost iridescent quality; the ancient fossils held within appear as scars.

Beyond, in the valley, the darkness has begun to seep into the ruts and furrows of the fields and amongst the trees. Within the red brick walls, glowing a vibrant terracotta, darkness is yet to come. In the south-east corner of the cemetery there is a feature, rather neatly termed a seat, by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The seat is actually an enclosed shelter. It is predominantly red brick, a combination of arts and crafts detailing and neo-Georgian proportions. The pointing is rustic, evoking the buildings local to the cemetery rather than that of the countryside that would have been familiar to many of the interred. Weaving its way thinly round the archway a wisteria plant, this shock of purple transforms the seat to something quintessentially British in its appearance.

I am surrounded by colour. The hum of wildlife fills the air; fresh, green sprigs of life emerge in the fields around and life moves on in the distant murmur of a tractor and a pair of horses be trotted down the metalled road that passes across the front of the cemetery.

Amidst this I am at peace, I allow my mind to wander, to construct the carnage that engulfed this landscape and tore through the men laying all around me. At the far perimeter wall is a seat, echoing the white stone shapes on the other feature, it is a memorial to the men of the 14th battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers. The enclosed seat was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, a great proponent of red brick. It is unclear who designed this memorial seat. The Portland stone and crisp lines continue the detailing of the remainder of the cemetery without being clearly of it. There is an aura of a provincial, municipal architect about it, something that seems more to be a copy of a style than the original. It is, nonetheless, a well executed piece that, whilst not complimenting per se, does not detract from the atmosphere created by Baker.

As the sky rids itself of clouds today and the early evening sun throws the Frank Whitmore building out of my window into stark contrast of red, white and black, I sit in my office and imagine that May day. The colours, the sounds, the peace; my mind drifts back and I remember why I visit these places and why they are there.

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