View Full Version : Paddy's return from 'The Green Fields of France'
08-29-2006, 10:22 AM
First chance back to the Lounge after having returned from a week walking the Somme battlefield in France (and then dashing to the 'London Fedora Lounge Summer bash!').
Had a great time and the two guides (they are indispensible for your first visit, as they bring the woods and fields to life with their enthusiasm and knowledge by turning the clock back 90+ years) were just great.
It's hard to comprehend the numbers of men who died there on those French fields and the land is still littered with body parts bubbling to the surface each year and ordnance (on one walk I came across FOUR grenades!! just lying at the side of a field. Look, but don't touch...though try telling some folk that!!).
Putting it mildly, when you walk across the fields between the two lines (Brit and German) you realise pretty quickly why nothing moved out there in daylight, as it is so exposed. It was a butchers yard (I know, not a pleasant analogy, but pretty apt sadly for this area in 1916).
I went this year as it's the 90th anniversary of the first major offensive and on July 1st, many Irish boys (and others) lost their lives and spilled their blood over those fields. Boys as young as 14!!
What brought a lump to my throat were the epitaphs on the white Commonwealth graves. Believe it or not, the families were charged by the letter for having an epitaph, and most of these boys were from poor working class families! But they still dug deep, proud races that gave up their sons for King & Country.
Some epitaphs were just simple, well known quotes form the bible (eg: Nearer to God are thee...etc), others were very personal (eg: Your sister Bessie and loving mother Edith, in the quiet hours, alone, we miss you son...), or the epitaphs that felt the waste of the war (eg: Was the loss of one so young worth the cost)...and some were the last loving words of a son to his mother, in the last letter she received from her child...(Don't worry mum, I'll be alright...).
I saw woods that were now graves to thousands of young men who died in close combat and after the war the bodies were buried under the trees where they fell. Boys came from all corners of the Empire to fight, thinking that if they didn't they would miss bashing the Hun in six months! And as the UK comedy/satire of Blackadder Goes Forth, said, "Give Harry Hun six of the best, and we'll be sucking German sausage in Berlin by the end of the week ...home in time for tea and medals!"
Sadly, that upbeat attitude at the beginning of the Great War was not to last as the awful and sometimes prehistoric form of fighting in the trenches and tunnels dragged on for four years at a horrendous cost to many a nation's youth (Newfoundland hadn't recovered by WW2 and hardly had enough men to raise a battallion, such was the loss suffered during the Great War!).
Anyway, if you ever have the chance, I'd recommend a walking tour of the battlefields (either WW2 or Great War). Next trip may very well be Ypres and the Salient.
08-29-2006, 10:39 AM
Photo below is at the memorial beside the massive crater at Lochnagar, which British miners created after digging right under the German trenches and packing the site with explosives. This crater is just HUGE!
A lighter moment with Kaiser Bill and Fritz at THE TOMMY BAR which is full of old bits of ordnance and militaria to do with the Great War, much of which has been dug up out of fields.
Memorial to all the Scottish and Irish regimental pipers who helped spirit the troops out of the trenches and into the face of withering and murderous fire.
08-29-2006, 10:52 AM
You ought to make THAT one your new avatar, Paddy! Alas, we forget how many young men we sent out to these places never to return to their families... What a sobering, somber place this must be...
08-29-2006, 10:55 AM
I believe this is the famous Irish lad, Willie McBride, of whom the song was written. I was at his graveside in France and here's the picture (plus the poignant lyrics below).
If you are interested, or have never heard this song then click on the attached link to hear it, but it's a very moving piece, I'm sure you'll agree...
Well, how do you do, Private William McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile in the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done.
And I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the glorious fallen in 1916,
Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?
Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
Did the rifles fir o'er you as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?
And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?
The sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.
And I can't help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "The Cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.
08-29-2006, 11:25 AM
Wonderful photographs, Paddy. It looks like it was a very moving experience. One of my favorite poets is Wilfred Owen - you should check out some of his work. Some of it is fairly graphic, but I think you would appreciate it.
I especially love the shot of the poppies growing. It reminds me of Flanders' Fields.
08-29-2006, 11:40 AM
Paddy, For the song site steer. Its now on my favourites.
The Dropkick Murphys do a great version of Willie Mc Bride Too.
Drones should see that Piper statue. I think he'd be impressed.
If interested please look up this site: Images Of a forgotten War
08-29-2006, 11:58 AM
Glad to see you back, Paddy. It sounds like your trip was incredible. The pictures are moving when put into context. Thanks for sharing them, and welcome home.
08-29-2006, 03:33 PM
I've read two books about WWI that you would probably enjoy (if you haven't read them already).
"A Rifleman Went to War" by H.W. McBride, an American who volunteered for the Canadian Army to get into the War.
"Mud, Blood and Poppycock" by Gordon Corrigan. He has some interesting evidence that calls into question some of the conventional wisdom of WWI.
Tony in Tarzana
08-29-2006, 03:34 PM
I will have to go there for a visit. I'll need to make sure to have a handkerchief in every pocket, though.
08-29-2006, 07:38 PM
Those pictures are all fantastic - I'm glad you posted them! Seeing pictures makes it all that much more real. It also makes me want to visit myself for the in-person experience.
08-29-2006, 09:15 PM
I have visited several of the Normandy Beaches and gravesites; similarly moving places and - sadly - even closer to modern times.
Also, the American Airmen's Cemetery just outside Cambridge is a moving tribute to those who did not return from the many raids launched from the fields there.
Those fields are now mostly waving wheat and barley in the late summer sunshine. Almost nothing but patches of concrete here and there remains in some cases. Hard to believe, eh? I used to live near the former RAF Hawkinge in Kent (key site in BoB) and they were selling most of that for building houses on..!! Somehow seems wrong, I feel.
08-30-2006, 01:48 PM
Thanks Paddy for those photos and sentiments. Yes, what a dreadful waste of young lives - the futility of war !! My paternal grandfather fought in France and was taken prisoner in late 1916 I believe, having been in it from the beginning. Needless to say, he saw untold horrors during that time but rarely spoke of it at all except when, as my dad told me, he'd "had a couple"
Among some of the things I can recall my father telling me were that in the winter, the trenches were a wet, muddy hell with rats eating the food out of soldiers pockets while they slept. It was common to be knee deep in mud and from time to time as they waded through the mire, the putrid stench of rotting corpses would be released as men actually trod on the decaying corpses buried in the mud where they had fallen ( this on the battlefields, obviously, not in the trenches so much ) My grandads account of his capture went thus : They had gone 'over the top' on one occasion and were immediately under heavy machine gun fire with men dropping like flies ( unlike the rather sanitised depiction of death in the average war film, concentrated machine gun fire would quite literally tear a man to pieces ) They dropped their weapons and raised their arms in surrender but the firing went on for some time and when it stopped, my grandfather was one of only a handful left standing. He openly admitted that he was so scared during those final few seconds, which seemed like an eternity, that his hair literally 'stood on end' He and his comrades were put to work straight away by the Germans as stretcher bearers. My grandad died in 1966 aged 71. He was just one of thousands who 'did their bit' and he was a hero simply for being in it - AS WERE THEY ALL
Private Isaac Thomas Surman - 10th Worcestershire Regiment
08-30-2006, 05:22 PM
I've just read that piece and looked at the picture of your grandfather. Not sure what I can say, as the words fail me...
Just such a tragedy and even men who survived ..'died' in some way...
08-31-2006, 02:27 PM
you rekindle an old wish of mine to visit the battlefield of the Somme and/or Ypres / Passchendaele.
I usually go to the Verdun area, simply because a friend of a friend owns a second house there, and it is great motorbike-country. With a couple of friends I have been going to this area for 9 times during the last 15 years, and the battlefields are a major attraction, bizarre as it sounds. The same there: every year people still die from explosives fromWW1. Farmers plough with a armorplate behind the tractor. In the Verdun area the "lost villages" are particularly impressive. Bombardments / artillery duels were so intense, that over a period of 6 month some eight (I think) villages were totally wiped of the face of the earth.
Here are a couple of pictures of me and my friends.
The first one shows us in front of the American monument at Montfaucon:
The second one shows us on top of Fort Douaumont, north of Verdun, that was the epicentre of terrific fighting during the Battle of Verdun in 1916. Especially galling is the fact that the French had abandoned the fort and the Germans got it on a platter. Tens of thousands French and Germans died in the battle for reposession.
The third picture is taken from the bottom of a minecrater at Les Eparges in the Saint Mihiel salient, where the French blew the Germans to kingdom come - and vice versa. If you look carefully you see one of my friends on the rim - and that is a crater after nature has had 90 years to fill it again!
The flower of an entire generation perished....
Tony in Tarzana
09-01-2006, 03:55 AM
The flower of an entire generation perished....
Yes, and in many ways Europe, and particularly France, never really recovered. What a tragic waste on all sides.
09-01-2006, 04:28 AM
The Great War was really the beginning of the end for the British Empire. From that war and the losses by Commonwealth Countries loyal to King and Country, stemmed the feeling for independence 'from' GB. It was the beginning of the end, and the rot set in for the Empire.
Also Europe was changed and sadly the seeds for WW2 were well and truely sewn by the mish-mash Armistice and Treaty of Versailles (another war with Germany from that point was just a matter of time).
And young countries like Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland were decimated by the loss of young male blood.
A poignant thing I saw recently, was a photo of a family with about 30 members in it. I was reminded that if Uncle Jonnie hadn't returned from the Great War, then NONE of those people in the family photo would be alive today!! A sobering thought (it wasn't just one life left in France, it was the potential of many lives. How many early cancer cures died with a life in the blood soaked trenches of Flanders?). Just a thought for today...
09-01-2006, 09:31 AM
My Dad was stationed in Marville in the early 60s while serving with the RCAF, not far from Verdun. We took a family trip to Europe when I was 13 and toured some of the battle sites mentioned above (including Douamont, Vaux, Verdun).
I searched for a small diamond shaped marble plaque that had been placed in a wall of one of the forts (I think in Verdun), I had first seen a picture of this plaque in a TIME/Life book about WWI.
The plaque is inscribed "A mon fils: depuis que tes yeux sont fermes les miens n‚Äôont cess?© de pleurir."
Forgive my sloppy french, maybe someone can do a better job, but it translates to something like: "To my son: Since your eyes have closed, ours have not ceased to cry."
Still looking for a pic of it.
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