The First of July

As the grotesque slaughter began further along the line to the south-west, 11th DLI was stationed at Brandhoek. The war diary for the day reads:

“2nd Lt A.I. Ward and Sergt. McEvoy commence month’s course at 2nd Army School, WISQUES.”

It is a salutary thought as the centenary commemorations take part this year, that 100 years ago most of the British Army was not involved – though, for most, their time would come to be put through the mincer.

Readers of this blog will have their own thoughts on what they may or may not do as a personal contribution to this particular centenary commemoration, and that is how it should be. This writer has tended to avoid getting caught up in any of what is going on, as there is too much danger of it slipping into some form of glorification, however well disguised. There is no glory in war.

There has been one mainstream commemorative event that has meant a lot here in Norwich: Fierce Light, a collaboration between poets and film makers reflecting in their own distinctive ways back on those times. It included Jackie Jay, Bill Manhire, Paul Muldoon, Daljit Nagra and Yrsa Daley Ward and has resulted in slim volume. Equally moving (and shared at the same event) has been the similar contribution by Simon Armitage called ‘Still’, a mixture of poetry and images from the Imperial War Museum’s collection of aerial and other photographs of the time. He uses a translation from the Roman poet Virgil’s Georgics, superficially a treatise on farming but ‘underscored with some of the tensions and anxieties of Virgil’s own era, including military conflict, politics and nationhood’ and focussed on the earth under our feet.

Those who have walked these old battlefields will quickly understand the allusion, but do read this work – it is uncanny and disturbing and very timely. This land was fought over for thousands of years. Do not imagine it could never happen again.